01 December 2022 | Story Jóhann Thormählen | Photo iStock
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The globe unites on 1 December each year to commemorate World Aids Day

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce the risk of getting HIV through sex by more than 90%.

Although it should not be seen as a substitute for traditional HIV prevention strategies, Shibashiba Moabelo, Coordinator: HIV and Aids office in Kovsie Health, says it is important in the fight against the pandemic.

And that is why the University of the Free State (UFS) is raising awareness about PrEP when there is a global focus on HIV and Aids.

World Aids Day is commemorated on 1 December to unite in the fight against HIV, to remember those who have lost their lives, to raise awareness, and to reflect on the progress that has been made.

South Africa has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, and this year, the national commemoration of World Aids Day – with the global theme of Equalise – is being hosted by the Free State Province in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.

Additional strategy

According to Moabelo, PrEP “is a preventive treatment whereby people at very high risk of HIV infection take daily anti-HIV medicines to lower their chances of getting infected”.

It should be taken at the same time daily, reducing the risk of HIV before exposure, and people should undergo HIV testing before using it.

Moabelo says PrEP should be seen as an additional strategy to prevent HIV and users are encouraged to continue using condoms, as it does not prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

“Students are encouraged to use a combination of prevention methodologies,” he says.

“PrEP is not 100% effective, and therefore it is not a silver bullet. Like any other anti-retroviral treatment, it must be taken consistently to be effective.”

It could cause short-term side effects that are typically experienced by one in ten people, such as nausea, tiredness, gastrointestinal symptoms, and headaches.

Screening and testing on campus

The UFS HIV and Aids office continuously provides services and forges partnerships with communities in the fight against HIV and Aids.

It creates opportunities for HIV testing and screening for tuberculosis, STDs, and non-communicable diseases, ensuring that those who test HIV positive are given support and others are encouraged to remain negative.

Moabelo says his office “collaborates with internal and external stakeholders to render a comprehensive health and wellness programme” and empowers the Kovsie community to become programme ambassadors.

It does this through projects such as the First Things First campaigns, condom distributions, and peer education.

According to Moabelo, 13 First Things First campaigns were run on the three campuses in 2022, increasing the number of students screened and tested.

A total of 5 422 students were tested for HIV, 8 501 were screened for STDs, and 10 205 screened for TB.

The UFS also started rolling out PrEP, with 188 students benefiting, using these campaigns to increase the uptake.

Students are encouraged to make use of the UFS services. Contact Kovsie Health on the Bloemfontein (+27 51 401 2603), South (+27 51 505 1495), or Qwaqwa (+27 58 718 5056) campuses.

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