Jamaica AIDS Support reports good take up of anti-HIV pillSaturday, December 04, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
JAMAICA AIDS Support for Life (JASL) is reporting a high uptake of the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug among locals between ages 25 and 40.
Executive director of JASL Kandasi Levermore during a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, said after introducing the drug last October, JASL saw good results when the pilot study with 50 participants was also completed last year.
In addition, Xavier Biggs, monitoring and evaluation officer at JASL, told the Observer that when the pilot study ended, a demand for the service was created which led to the maintenance of a subset of individuals for PrEP.
“Additional persons have come in, but again because PrEP is based on people's perception of their risks and also because persons have also cycled out [of the programme]...we've had up to 97 people overall,” said Biggs.
Now, JASL has 58 people who are actively engaged in the PrEP programme.
The PrEP, commonly referred to as the 'magic pill', is used as an additional preventative method to reduce the risk of contracting the HIV if exposed.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV, but are at very high risk of getting HIV, to prevent infection by taking a pill every day. Currently, the health and wellness ministry offers antiretroviral therapy (ART) to HIV-positive individuals.
High-risk HIV infection populations include people with multiple sexual partners or a person in a serodiscordant relationship, where one person is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative.
But, Biggs said PrEP is not a medication that can be easily accessed at a drug store locally though it is more widely available in other countries.
“You would have to go on a PrEP plan because there are other models for how it is distributed globally. Models like on-demand PrEP and those models are not available locally but it is not likely to be something that you walk into a pharmacy and pick up off the shelf because you have to know how to take it and you must do an HIV test and other kinds of STI assessments before you take it,” Biggs explained.
Levermore, however, said JASL is looking at other ways to make the pill more accessible, but cautioned that it is only recommended for high risk people.
“PrEP is very much available, and we encourage people who are at high risks [to take it]. We don't want everybody to think that –'oh, I can take this one drug and that's it'. The truth is, if your level of exposure and risk is not high, we don't recommend PrEP for you,” Levermore said.
Like Biggs, the executive director, said one would need to do a series of health screens to get onto PrEP.
“But to get on PrEP, you would have to get on our team. They have their assessments that they do and then they will place you on PrEP. It is something that is very much continuing,” she said, noting that JASL is the only organisation that offers the anti-HIV pill.
Individuals on PrEP have to be monitored for regular STI, HIV checks, adherence and side effects for the medication. People on a PrEP programme are also exposed to public education around correct drug usage to prevent drug resistance, as the success of programmes are more than just taking a prescribed pill.
Several countries worldwide, including the United States of America, Canada and United Kingdom have successfully used PrEP to lessen new HIV infections. Studies show that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by approximately 99 per cent when taken correctly, and the pill works best as part of a combination of preventive services that includes regular HIV testing and condom usage.
In the meantime, Levermore said there have been no serconversions from the PrEP programme. Seroconversion is the process where a person is HIV negative, would have benefited from prevention services then later produces a positive HIV test. This, she said, means that people who are a part of the PrEP programme are consistently taking the pill.