What is PrEP ?
A game changer for HIV prevention strategies, PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a medicine that people who do not have HIV can take in order to avoid contracting HIV when they are exposed to the virus from condomless sex or injection drug use.
PrEP is especially effective in reducing the risk of contracting HIV for those who are among the groups at the highest risk for HIV infection, such as men who have sex with men, transgender women who have sex with men, and injection drug users.
Studies have shown that taking PrEP as prescribed can safely and effectively lower the risk of HIV exposure by 90 percent. By taking PrEP, you can ensure that your body will have enough protection to prevent contracting HIV.
In Thailand, PrEP was first introduced by the Thai Public Health Ministry in 2017 as part of the government’s strategy in tackling HIV in Thailand. PrEP is accessible for locals and foreigners and is relatively affordable.
Do I have to take PrEP?
Whether you are gay, transgender , or heterosexual, if you are one of the following, you should consider taking PrEP:
- You have an HIV-positive partner
- You have multiple partners
- You do not know whether your partner is HIV-positive
- You prefer to have sex without condoms or you don’t always use condoms
- You have sex without condoms while injecting drugs and thus risking getting HIV from either sex or sharing needles
- You have just had a sexually transmitted infection
- You are a sex worker and thus need to take extra precautions from contracting HIV
- You have taken PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, to prevent HIV after a possible exposure more than once in the past 12 months
If I take PrEP, does that mean I can have sex without condoms?
It should be noted, however, that while taking PrEP as prescribed is effective in preventing HIV, the medicine can only protect you from HIV and not from other sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Condoms remain the better option for thorough protection or, even better, combining PrEP with wearing condoms for sure-fire protection from HIV and any other sexually transmitted infection.
In addition, while PrEP can lower the risk of getting HIV from sharing needles while injecting drugs with multiple sexual partners, avoiding drug injection is still the better option to avoid HIV altogether, since drugs are known to lower your inhibitions when it comes to sexual behavior. You might want to consider getting help for your sex and drug addiction in order to avoid contracting HIV in the future..
Do I have to take tests before taking PrEP?
The answer is yes. Consultations before taking PrEP and blood tests in order to ensure that you do not have HIV are required. In addition, doctors will also examine your liver and kidney function before prescribing this medicine.
Is PrEP effective?
In order to ensure its effectiveness, you must take PrEP only as prescribed. You must also be disciplined and follow doctors’ orders. Follow-up HIV tests as well as blood work (i.e. liver, kidney function) are also required.
No significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years. Some people may experience side effects while on PrEP such as nausea. However, these side effects are usually not serious and will disappear without requiring treatment. If you experience any side effects that are ongoing while taking PrEP, please contact your doctors immediately.
How often do I need to have a blood test while taking PrEP?
While you are on PrEP, you must undergo blood tests every 3 months to ensure that there is no HIV infection, as well as to make it certain that the medicine does not affect your body negatively (i.e. to your liver and kidneys). In addition, your healthcare providers need to ensure that you are not exposed to other sexually transmitted infections.
Where can I get PrEP?
In Thailand, PrEP is currently not available within the public health insurance system. Those who want access to PrEP should make an appointment with a doctor or contact private hospitals and clinics. There are some areas where you could get PrEP for free, especially if you are a member of a high-risk group(i.e. men who have sex with men,trans men and trans women)
Are there side effects of PrEP?
In general, there are little to no side effects that will occur when you are taking PrEP. Should you encounter side effects however, you may experience nausea, headache, diarrhea, or appetite loss. Such side effects are quite rare and even if they do appear, they will disappear within 2 or 3 weeks after beginning the medication. Please consult your doctor immediately if you experience severe side effects.
Is PrEP a vaccine?
No, PrEP is not a vaccine. Vaccines are injected into your body in order to build immunity against some diseases by creating antibodies in order to fight them. Vaccines work long after you take them. PrEP, on the other hand, is an oral drug that is specific to HIV prevention. In essence, PrEP works as an oral contraceptive that must be taken as prescribed in order to protect you from contracting HIV. It will only be as effective for as long as you are taking it as prescribed. Once you stop taking PrEP, the preventative effect disappears.
I am pregnant. Is it safe for me to take PrEP?
Whether you are pregnant or planning to have children, you can safely take PrEP and give birth without risking any complications. PrEP does not have a negative effect on your pregnancy. Please consult your doctor for further details.
What are the PrEP medicines available in Thailand?
- Generic versions of TDF/FTC for prevention