Doctors urged to use PrEP drug for at-risk patients

Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes. (FILE PHOTO)

Local doctors are being urged by a senior government health official to make better use of an HIV prevention drug regimen for patients who may be identified as at risk for the virus, which could lead to the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it, to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC explains on its website, that the pill (brand name Truvada), contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) that are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV.

When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection, the site said.

Director of the National HIV & AIDS programme Dr. Nikkiah Forbes told Eyewitnee News that doctors should write more prescriptions for the drug which she said, could possibly help stop the spread of the disease.

“The key is it has to be taken every day,” Dr. Forbes told Eyewitness News recently.

“If this medication is used consistently it can greatly reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by almost 90 per cent.”

She warned however that the drug, which is a part of a multi-pronged approach HIV negative individuals can use who may have a positive partner or is sexually engaged with multiple partners, is no “magic bullet” and is encouraging persons who will use the drug to continue to practice safe sex.

“Persons will still have to use barrier methods… it’s a combination package that has been proven to work if used correctly,” she said.

The drug that comes in the form of a pill Dr. Forbes explained, is a commitment and will require regular doctor visits.

“You have to see your doctor before starting the drug because side effects cause changes in kidney functions and doctors have to ensure that your status does not change,” Dr. Forbes reported.

Ministry of Health Surveillance indicates there are some 8,667 people living with HIV in The Bahamas.

And according to Dr. Forbes, the Ministry of Health is encouraging physicians to continue their education and training in this area.

One of the training’s objectives she explained, is to reinforce the Ministry’s “Treat All” Policy, which warrants that all persons with HIV have the opportunity to consult with their primary care physician in a private clinical setting in their community.

Dr. Forbes said, it is hoped that this approach will allow for more primary and family care physicians – in both public and private health facilities – to be able to provide a full spectrum of primary care services to patients living with HIV, including regular viral load testing, counselling, initiation and monitoring of anti-retroviral therapy.