So much has changed with HIV lately and never before have we had so many options in the ‘HIV prevention toolbox.’ In contrast to a time not all that long ago when condoms were the be all and end all, there are now several highly effective options available to us, and using them together will help to greatly reduce the risk of HIV transmission – and that’s why we call it combination prevention. Working together for our individual and community benefit with a variety of means at our disposal, the goal is to virtually eradicate the transmission of HIV within Queensland, and combination prevention is at the core of this goal.
So, what is the combination of preventative measures?
- RAPID HIV Testing
Rapid HIV testing has been available in Queensland since June 2013 at a number of sexual health clinics around the state. QPP proudly operates a dedicated peer-to-peer rapid testing clinic called RAPID in Fortitude Valley, open five days a week. Rapid testing involves a simple finger prick blood test that provides results in 20 minutes with 99% accuracy. This means no anxious wait for results and makes regular testing much more convenient.
Visit www.rapid.org.au to learn more about rapid testing.
Treatment as Prevention, or TasP as it is colloquially known, is all about “the goal of undetectable”. By commencing and maintaining HIV treatment, people living with HIV are able to reduce their viral load (the amount of virus in the body) to a level that is undetectable in a routine blood test. The HIV virus is still present in the body, but at such a low level that it is undetectable. This allows your body to function at its best and can help you to live a healthy and long life. Today, treatment regimes can involve as little as one pill a day and have fewer side effects than before, in addition, because the virus is suppressed in your body, it significantly lowers the risk of transmission to others in the community.
PEP stands for Post-exposure Prophylaxis (prophylaxis means preventative medicine), and has been available in Australia for some years now. PEP involves taking a four-week course of anti-retroviral HIV treatment that may prevent your body from acquiring HIV following a high-risk exposure. A key factor of PEP is that for it to be effective in preventing HIV getting a foothold in the body, it must be commenced within 72 hours of the possible exposure, and ideally as soon as possible. Therefore, access to PEP is considered a medical emergency and is available only at hospitals and sexual health clinics. To find the nearest location to you where PEP is available, go to http://www.endhiv.org.au/services or give QPP a call on 1800 636 241.
Not to be confused with PEP, PrEP is an acronym for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and is a prevention strategy whereby an HIV-negative person will take an ongoing course of anti-retroviral treatment to reduce the risk of HIV transmission before exposure. PrEP works by inhibiting the virus’ ability to target your CD4 cells, which are the cells that make up your immune system. By commencing a course of PrEP, there is an emphasis placed on staying negative, and the responsibility of reducing HIV transmission is shared amongst everyone. PrEP is not yet approved for use in Australia although trials are commencing in Queensland this year. It’s important to remember that PrEP doesn’t offer any protection against STIs, but it’s a great prevention strategy to be considered by those who undertake behaviours that are considered high-risk for HIV transmission.
They may be ugly and awkward, they may be old-fashioned, and a lot of people may be fatigued of hearing about them let alone using them. But condoms remain the tried and trusted way of helping to prevent HIV transmission during sex, as well as aiding in the prevention of STIs and pregnancy. The good thing is there are many types of condoms available, including female/internal condoms, so options abound! Remember, if it’s not on, it’s not on.
The Community HIV Education and Prevention Program provides free condom kits to anyone in Queensland – visit www.chep.hiv/freecondoms to order yours.
It’s great that in 2015 there are several highly effective options available to the whole community in helping to prevent HIV transmission. The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has adopted a strategy with the aim of 90-90-90 (90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive treatment and 90% of all people on treatment will have viral suppression) by 2020. The combination of prevention strategies we’ve discussed here demonstrates how this can be done, right here in Queensland. This UNAIDS goal of a 90-90-90 also underpins the Queensland strategy and is encapsulated by the slogan “Together we can E.N.D. H.I.V.” – check out the website to find out more. www.endhiv.org.au.