The antiretroviral pill Truvada, or PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), can prevent HIV-transmission up to 99%. It costs an average of R691 monthly at pharmacies in Stellenbosch. A generic version, Adco-Emtevir, averagely costs R291, which still makes it inaccessible to our student population. On top of this, to access PrEP, you have to see your doctor for a clinical assessment including blood tests.
Campus Health has a programme for PrEP that’s not free due to dependence on roll out from state clinics. Dr Lynne Julie, a general practitioner at Campus Health Services, explained progress is being made, though the timeframe is unclear. Two nursing sisters are currently undergoing ARV-training at the clinic, so when the medication will become available for free, they’ll be able to roll out theprogramme completely.
Thokozani Nyawasha, acting programme manager of The Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS), confirmed PrEP is rolled out at only seven universities, none of which are in the Western Cape. Nyawasha added that the initial target populations for PrEP rollout by the
National Department of Health and partners are adolescent girls and young women, homosexual men, sex workers and universities. The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation’s website recommends PrEP to any HIV-negative persons with an HIV-positive sexual partner not yet on ARVs, not yet virally undetectable, or anyone sexually active in a high risk HIV population practicing unprotected, penetrative intercourse with multiple partners.
Andy van der Berg, MSc student, testified that PrEP has given him peace of mind regarding HIV. He states, “HIV was just this scary disease that kills you. Now I am more educated and I also have this simple extra layer of protection. I take my tablet daily and that’s it.” He adds that that the lack of access for tertiary students is a shame. He currently has to travel to the Ivan Toms Clinic in Cape Town to access free medication.
Even though it is an added prevention, the medication doesn’t protect you from other STI’s, so a combination of other prevention methods such as condoms are still recommended. Mild side-effects can also occur, but usually resolves over time. More serious side-effects concern a decrease in bone mineral density and kidney damage.