First 28 Days on PrEP
After making up his mind to try the medication last year, In 2018, Phumlani Kango decided this would be the year he continued with PrEP. Here is how he is getting on.
Last year I wrote about my decision to get on PrEP. If you recall, I talked about how I was struggling to access it at the public facilities. That was the most frustrating time of my life as I had all the information I needed on PrEP but I either wasn’t getting it anywhere or the centers were always full when I went. Imagine arriving at 11am and sitting till 2pm to hear that the only doctor seeing people has now had to go somewhere or nurses not knowing what PrEP is. Things like that just infuriates one and discourage you from actually completing your task.
GOOD NEWS THOUGH! FINALLY, I was able to get on PrEP. After I did some research I found some facilities that provide it for free without any hassle at all.
A lot of people have been curious about PrEP ever since we first heard about it on #MTVShugaDS. @Phumlani_Kango also had some questions about the medication and he decided to do some digging. Read more: https://t.co/oYOFySDWSv pic.twitter.com/rsVsMvABCF
— MTV Shuga (@MTVShuga) January 22, 2018
The facilities I found are the Health4Men clinics which are nationwide in South Africa and are accessible to any man that would like to get on PrEP. Health4Men clinics are part of the Anova Institute, and are usually housed in buildings with other clinics where women can also access PrEP.
Upon arriving I was welcomed by friendly staff who did not make me feel otherwise as I was already nervous about the whole procedure. I was nervous because of what people would think of me coming to get PrEP because of this stigma attached to PrEP which is that people who use the preventative medication are promiscuous. I quickly reminded myself that this is for my health and it shouldn’t matter what others say or think, all I know is I’ll be extra safe.
I filled out a form and answered a questionnaire as part of the process and to also gather information for my file for the clinic. After all of this was done I went to meet the counselor who was going to take me to the HIV counseling session before getting tested.
Everyone has to take an HIV test before getting on PrEP to establish their status. When the test was done I was escorted to another room where I met a Nurse who drew blood for a Hepatitis B test to see if my kidneys were functioning well. You cannot begin taking PrEP if you’re having issues with your kidneys.
Results for the test come back within two days and after then will you be given your pills for the next 28 days. I won’t lie, I was rather nervous when taking this test even though it was my second test I had taken in a space of 2 months as I got tested the first time I got PrEP which was in November. I don’t know why I was nervous as I always use condoms and made sure I was safe. Why is that we always get nervous when going to get tested even when we know we’ve been safe?? LOL, that’s a question for another day. I was most nervous about finding out whether my kidneys were fine or not in order for me to be on PrEP.
— Nthabiseng Mhlongo (@VhoNthabi) May 26, 2017
The Next 30 Days:
I would be lying if I said I was not nervous about the potential side-effects of taking PrEP. I had read up on some of them online and was building a dark picture in my head of what to expect. Some of these side-effects include:
- mild diarrhea. mild nausea or stomach pain;
- headache, dizziness, depressed mood;
- strange dreams
- mild itching or skin rash;
*Yet like with a lot of medication out there, there’s always a chance that you may experience side-effects – PrEP is no different.
Like many other people on PrEP, I did not experience any of these side-effects at first. In fact, I did not experience any negative consequences for the 28 days I took the pills.
One thing I didn’t realise before taking PrEP was that you had to take the pill every day at exactly the same time. If you don’t, then it reduces the effectiveness of the medication (key word here being reduces, not eliminates). Figuring out what time worked for me was fairly straight forward, as I chose 8am because this is the time I am usually eating breakfast so I wouldn’t forget to take them.
— MTV Shuga (@MTVShuga) May 12, 2017
For the next 28 days, I was taking my pills at 8am every single day. All was going well until that one day day I forgot to take my pill in the morning and only remembered when I got to work.
I started freaking out, because I thought the medicine would stop working or me missing the time I took it at would impact how it works on my body. I immediately called the nurse who gave me my prescription and asked about what was going to happen to me. I was convinced the pills had stopped working and that I’d put myself in danger. I felt like all of the hard work I had put in to taking the pill every single day had gone to waste. I was devastated. But, the nurse reassured me that I was fine as long as I took the pill immediately when I got home.
When you forget to take it at the time you’re supposed, then you must take it as soon as you remember. That was the advice I was given and am passing on.
As you can see, my experience with PrEP has been a rollercoaster ride. I have been nervous, scared, excited and happy. I was excited that I was taking charge of my sexual health and happy that I was finally able to get the medicine after struggling for so long. I was happy that I finally got it and I could tell others about it. I was also scared because here I was taking control of MY life and protecting myself. Yet, the confusion and fear didn’t come because of the medicine itself, but because of my (and probably most of our) lack of understanding about PrEP. Speaking to the nurse helped ease my worries and remind me that I was doing the right thing for me.
Would I recommend PrEP?? Definitely! Taking care of ourselves isn’t always easy. However, now that I am on it and I know first-hand what it is like being on the pill, I would definitely suggest it to anyone who wants to be extra safe.
There’s a lot of information out there about PrEP if you take the time to look for it. Find the right clinic for you, and the staff will be able to help you make the decision that works best for you. It’s not easy taking charge of our sexual health but it was something that was important to me and could be something that works for you too. Finding out more is the only way you’ll know for sure.