The Family Planning Association of TT (FPATT) has called for Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to change his position on not allowing the public to access Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication in the public sector.
PrEP prevents HIV-negative people from becoming infected with the virus that causes AIDS. In a Sunday Newsday article, Deyalsingh said giving PrEP drugs to people before exposure or with no exposure means “knowingly you are going to engage in some sort of behaviour that would cause you to be at a higher risk of getting HIV and you want to take a drug to prevent yourself from getting HIV.”
Donna Da Costa Martinez, executive director of FPATT, said it is “extremely critical” for people to access the medication when they need it. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put PrEP on its essential medicines list.
“HIV is an illness loaded with social stigma and cultural meanings that have had a negative impact on the ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent its spread.
“To suggest that the introduction of PrEP will encourage promiscuity is to take a very myopic view that can create a narrative implying that those who wish to use PrEP are unable to make rational decisions about what is best for them,” Da Costa Martinez said.
said this type of thinking gives the perception of PrEP as a harmful practice that encourages promiscuity and irresponsible behaviour among its users, rather than a useful tool to prevent HIV.
“The statement is not only short-sighted but harmful as the deciding factor then becomes grounded in a moral debate about human sexuality, an integral part of who we are and what we do.”
Clinical trials and acceptability studies throughout the world demonstrate the high effectiveness of PrEP in preventing sexual transmission of HIV in different populations, she said.
“HIV experts have concluded that PrEP treatments could be an invaluable tool for tackling HIV infections, and (it) has won a strong vote of confidence from the WHO which has recommended PrEP for ‘at-risk’ groups, who are statistically likely to face exposure to HIV.”
This group includes female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender women and people who are in a partnership with someone with HIV.
Several governments in the Caribbean have recognised the importance of PrEP as a prevention tool and included PrEP as part of their HIV prevention strategy.
In 2018 the Bahamas and Barbados introduced PrEP through the public health system. In August 2019, the Jamaica and Guyanese governments announced plans to launch a PrEP programme to reduce new cases of HIV.