PrEP yo’self before you wreck yo’self

Words by Nadia
Art by Kaye Simonson

I don’t want to be the condom police here, but…

Search, “How to prevent HIV” and Google will give you no less than 3.7 million results – meaning, there’s a lot of people out there trying to reduce their chances of getting HIV. But now you can stress a little less about catching HIV, thanks to PrEP.

You may have already heard of PrEP, or perhaps or you don’t know much about it at all. Either way, we all share a responsibility for HIV protection. So buckle up folks, you’re in for a ride, because aside from just taking in the info you read today, you might even decide to take the pill in as well.

For those who don’t know about PrEP, it’s an acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is an antiretroviral drug that you take once a day to protect and prevent you from HIV infection. The tablet is 99% effective in reducing HIV risk, and is expected to reduce new HIV transmissions in Victoria by up to 30% in the next few years. Revolutionary.

However, just like other drugs, it is important to weigh both the potential benefits with potential implications. By adding PrEP to the equation, you can be more confident and in control of your HIV status. It can also assure those who are HIV positive that their partners are well protected.

Yet is it worth considering that the drug also has short and long-term side effects, just like any other medications on the market. While some users may experience nausea, dizziness, stomach cramps, tiredness, headaches and diarrhoea – most people won’t have any. These side effects usually improve or stop after a few weeks. On the other hand, taking PrEP for a long period of time can affect your kidney function, so it’s important to have regular blood tests every three months to monitor your kidneys.

Now, before you throw caution to the wind and stop using protection, you should note that PrEP does not prevent you from other infections, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis, gonorrhoea or chlamydia. I don’t want to be the condom police here, but you should know that it is still important to use condoms to be protected from these. Using condoms consistently while taking PrEP will provide the maximum protection you need against HIV and STIs.

If you are considering taking condoms out of the picture, it is important to be well-informed about the consequences. Discuss the issues involved with your partner and your medical provider. Ultimately, it’s a decision between you and your partner when choosing what levels of HIV risk you’re comfortable with, before experimenting with less protection.

But, let’s be honest, many people struggle with using condoms consistently – it can be seen as a declaration of distrust, or as taking the spontaneity out of sex. This is why PrEP was developed.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has managed to get PrEP listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, tablet prices could be slashed from $10,000 per year to just $39 a month and is set to hit shelves on April 1 – that’s no April Fool’s joke. From April we can have sex a little more carefreely and choke out HIV transmission in Australia.

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