Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but are at substantial risk to prevent infection by taking a pill every day. Making the drug available for safe, effective prevention outside the clinical trial setting is well underway and is expanding to parts of southern Africa.
When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people at high risk by up to 92 percent. This includes people who have sex with HIV-positive partners, sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, among others. The pill (brand name Truvada®) contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.
PrEP is most effective if taken consistently. PrEP can be combined with condoms and other prevention methods to provide even greater protection than when used alone. People who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day and seeing a health care provider for follow-up every three months.
As of September 2015, the World Health Organization recommends that people at substantial risk of HIV infection should be offered PrEP as an additional prevention choice, as part of comprehensive prevention. To date, over 20 countries have developed protocols and strategies for rolling out PrEP within their HIV prevention programs.
The health communication efforts in the area of PrEP must be addressed to many audiences:
- National policymakers – to create national strategies for PrEP as part of HIV prevention programs
- Health institutions – to create plans for distribution of PrEP and guidelines for its use
- Service providers – to obtain training about screening patients who might be candidates for PrEP, and how to explain the process, especially the need to take the drug daily
- Individuals – to encourage PrEP users to take the drug daily and receive follow-up care every three months
The latest Health COMpass Trending Topic offers tools and project examples for PrEP, and will be updated as new materials become available.