A statement made famous by many people championing a healthy lifestyle while HIV positive. But what does this actually mean? In the wake of alarming numbers released in 2015- that more than half [51%] of new HIV infections occurred among adolescents and youth between the age 15-24 years old. The strategy of preventing new infections was forced to turn a new leaf. HIV/ AIDS research in Kenya has made great strides in helping us understand how the virus works; as a result, medications including but certainly not limited to ARV’s gained significant popularity and are changing lives.
Post-exposure prophylaxis, better known as PEP was approved in Kenya in 2001. It is a 28-day course oral regimen prescribed after exposure to HIV or post sexual assault. More recently PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis is an ARV prescribed once daily for people who are more likely to be exposed to HIV. These have demonstrated efficacy in reducing incidence among adults at high risk of HIV infection. Notably, some of the most vulnerable people in the population did not have access to these drugs in the early 2000s, mainly due to the stigma and lack of knowledge around HIV. In the last few years efforts to target those most vulnerable in the population have shown to be effective in reducing the number of new infections. Also worth noting is that even among medical professionals, sexual transmission is the most common source of HIV infection. Essentially safe sex practices and knowing your HIV status is the most effective way to prevent new infections.
So to have HIV live in a person but test negative means that disciplined and healthy lifestyle practices including taking ARV’s daily suppress the HIV viral load to fewer than 200 copies per milliliter of blood, thus keeping the immune system working well and helps one better fight opportunistic diseases– which is the leading cause of death in people living with HIV/ AIDS. Achieving and maintaining an undetectable viral load is the best thing people living with HIV can do to stay healthy, furthermore, it significantly decreases the risk of transmission from mother to child during birth and breastfeeding, one can give birth to and raise HIV-negative children. The narrative around HIV/AIDS is changing for the better, and we can all do our part by being educated and removing the stigma within ourselves first.
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Written by Wairimu Mathenge – Clinical Triage at Ponea Health.