The government has increased distribution of Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) mainly to sex workers and anyone at high risk of contracting HIV, a senior government official has said.
Speaking at a stakeholder meeting for Dreams (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids free, Mentored and Safe) project, Health ministry TB and HIV prevention national co-ordinator, Getrude Ncube, said so far, 56% of PrEP drugs were being consumed by sex workers, while 20% were being used by serodiscordant couples (when one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative ).
“We are in the process of increasing the distribution of PrEP. We have realised that so far, sex workers are at the forefront in the usage, but what has been lacking are the resources to ensure a wider coverage. As government, we are in the process of mobilising resources to ensure a wider reach,” Ncube said.
Under the PrEP initiative, those at high risk of HIV infection are given medication to reduce the risk of contracting the virus within at least 48 hours before an encounter with their partners.
According to health specialists, PrEP is used in combination with other prevention mechanisms, which include condoms.
Ncube said at least 18% of PrEP usage was being done by other people, while 8% uptake was from gay men.
“We need to have more of our adolescent girls exposed to PrEP because if we look at statistics, 50% of the new HIV infections are among the young people. We need more distribution networks,” she said.
Ncube said so far, adolescents accounted for 4% of PrEP usage.
The Health ministry and its funding partners are also advocating for the popularisation of PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), mainly for vulnerable girls and women; those who would have been raped or exposed to HIV infections.
Dreams co-ordinator Taurai Bhatasara said while PrEP and PEP were some of the prevention tools to end HIV, caution should be exercised to avoid abuse.
“It must be noted that PrEP does not prevent sexually-transmitted infections and other challenges. So it must be noted that while we advocate for the same, we must ensure we combine all other preventive mechanisms available,” Bhatasara said.
The government, through its social partners, has rolled out the Dreams initiative targeting young girls and adolescents to prevent new HIV infections as well as curb new Aids-related deaths.
The initiative targets young girls who would have dropped out of schools due to early marriages and other economic challenges to ensure they are empowered through education.
Under Dreams, adolescent girls are equipped with entrepreneurial skills so that they avoid early marriages as well as minimise gender-based violence among young families.