Updated 24 July 2017

PrEP 'guinea pig' remains HIV negative

Taking a single Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) tablet daily keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. It has been shown to be safe and effective.

When Samukelisiwe Innocent Chiliza heard about the CAPRISA (Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa) study on PrEP she immediately signed up as a participant.

Even though she didn’t know much about the drug involved – Truvada – Chiliza became one of the youngest South African PrEP partipants in South Africa when she signed up a year ago when she was 20 years old.

'People called me a guinea pig'

PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and is the use of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. PrEP – a single tablet taken once daily – is an approved drug that has been shown to be safe and effective.

“Being born in KZN and knowing that our province has the highest HIV prevalence in the country, this was something I had always wished for. That’s why I heard about the study I knew I had to participate because I didn’t want to become another KZN HIV statistic. I still went through with my decision even when people called me a guinea pig. I knew they didn’t have all the right information. I chose to rather take one pill a day than be scared or sorry,” Chiliza said.

At first Chiliza suffered from side-effects – headaches, vomiting, abdominal cramping and dizziness. She returned to the clinic and found out that where were short term side effects that stopped after a few days.

'Let's not default'

“At first my boyfriend didn’t understand why I was taking this ART (anti-retroviral) medication because I was HIV negative and had not been raped. I had to explain to him that PrEP is the use of anti-HIV medication to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected with HIV,” she explained.

The World Health Organization’s description of PrEP is: When CD4 cells are infected with HIV, they become little factories that make thousands of new viruses each day. HIV drugs work by blocking HIV from making copies of itself. If an HIV-negative woman already has HIV drugs in her bloodstream when she is exposed to HIV during unprotected sex the medicine might be able to keep the HIV from making enough copies of itself to “take hold” and prevent her from becoming infected.

Chiliza said being on PrEP did not stop her using condoms. She has been on the treatment for a year and remains HIV negative, and plans to adhere to the programme for the rest of her life.

“My grandmother is my biggest support and my treatment buddy. She is another reason why I took my decision. Because she has diabetes and high blood pressure, we both take our treatment at the same time. When the alarm rings she will laugh and say ‘Come it’s time, let’s not default’,” said Chiliza. – Health-e News.

Read more:

More proof that PrEP works

When condoms aren't enough: To PrEP or not to PrEP?

5 things you should know about PrEP