HIV prevention

HIV prevention pill to reduce infections. Image: AFP

PrEP: Everything you need to know about the HIV prevention medication

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or HIV prevention medication has been hailed as our best line of defence against the virus.

HIV prevention

HIV prevention pill to reduce infections. Image: AFP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention medication that reduces your chance of contracting HIV through sex or injection drug use, it is taken by anyone who has tested negative for HIV but is at high risk of exposure to HIV.

Pharmacist Joy Steenkamp of Medipost Pharmacy speaking to The Citizen said that:

“The medication, usually taken in the form of a daily pill, is highly effective when taken consistently as prescribed. An injectable form of PrEP is also available in some countries and will hopefully soon be introduced in South Africa,”

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two medications for use as PrEP: Truvada and Descovy.

We also have an injectable PrEP called Apretude (cabotegravir extended-release injectable suspension) which South Africa will be piloting in 2023.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the types of PreP and its uses:

  • Truvada – This is for people at risk through sex or injection drug use.
  • Descovy – This is for people at risk through sex. Descovy is not for people assigned female at birth who are at risk for HIV through receptive vaginal sex.
  • Apretude – This is the only shot approved for use as PrEP, apretude is for people at risk through sex who weigh at least 77 pounds (35 kg).

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The CDC says that studies done on PrEP’s effectiveness show that it “reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% and from injection drug use by at least 74%.”


The guidelines as per the CDC’s recommendation, that PreP should be taken by:

  • HIV-negative people and people who have had anal or vaginal sex in the past 6 months.
  • Anyone with a sexual partner with HIV (especially if the partner has an unknown or detectable viral load)
  • Anyone who does not consistently use a condom
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the past 6 months.


As much as the medication is safe, it does come with some side effects which include but are not limited to:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue,
  • Stomach pain

You need to consult your healthcare provider if any of these side effects persists or are severe.

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The CDC also explains the uses of on-demand PrEP which is also referred to as “intermittent ” or “non-daily” for people who are not at an ongoing risk of getting HIV.

  • The type of “on-demand” PrEP that has been studied is the “2-1-1” schedule. This means taking 2 pills 2-24 hours before sex, 1 pill 24 hours after the first dose, and 1 pill 24 hours after the second dose.
  • There is scientific evidence that the “2-1-1” schedule provides effective protection for gay and bisexual men when having anal sex without a condom.

ALSO READ: How long can you live with HIV without treatment?

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