How can the spread of HIV be prevented?

How to prevent the transmission of HIV. 

How to stay negative when at risk of becoming HIV+.

Preventing the spread of HIV is up to each and every one of us, regardless of our current HIV. The most common ways that HIV is transmitted is through sexual activity or the sharing of needles. You can read more about other ways that HIV can be transmitted.

Abstaining from these activities altogether is the safest way to prevent the spread of HIV, but there are also other ways. Using an effective barrier type of contraceptive, or sterilising needles, are examples of alternatives, and using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Who is at “high risk” of contracting HIV?

In the scientific community, certain regions of the world, and specific communities, are considered “high risk” for transmitting or contracting HIV. These delineations are defined by the ratios of HIV prevalence within particular areas of the world, or related to lifestyle practices.

For example: Many countries in Africa have a far higher HIV prevalence rate than other continents and may be considered “high risk”. That’s why innovation and research around preventing HIV transmission didn’t end with the invention of the condom. Instead, medical interventions that can be used to prevent HIV transmission from occurring are coming to the fore.

High risk communities in South Africa include:

  • Sex workers.
  • Adolescent girls and young women.
  • Men engaging in men-to-men sexual activities.
  • Truckers and migrant labourers.
  • Discordant couples: where one partner is HIV-negative, and the other is HIV-positive.

How can HIV be prevented in high-risk communities?

Education and testing programmes have been effective in helping to reduce the spread of HIV. This is true for both urban and outlying areas in developing countries. If you are at high risk for contracting HIV, you can now join a PrEP programme. PrEP programmes have been found to be effective in preventing the spread of HIV.

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What is pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)?

PrEP is a prevention method created specifically for people who are considered to be at a very high risk of contracting HIV.

Is Truvada an effective PrEP drug?

The best known available PrEP drug is Truvada. It’s a daily medication that lowers your chance of getting infected with HIV. Originally used in combination with another ARV, as a treatment for HIV in South Africa, Truvada is now part of a PrEP demonstration project here, and in at least 19 other countries including Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

What is the general attitude towards PrEP?

Truvada, and PrEP in general, has received a fair share of criticism since being introduced to the market. Questions have been raised about the true effectiveness of the product and participants’ commitment to taking the drug correctly and consistently, and whether the drug promotes promiscuity. In spite of this, prominent people like Professor Linda Gail Bekker, Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, have campaigned for the drug to be licensed as a preventative measure.

The school of thought which has driven the campaigns promote the point of view that PrEP is a cheaper and better way to prevent HIV infection. This is particularly for high-risk groups, including young women‚ sex workers and gay and bisexual men.

South Africa is widely affected by HIV and carries one of the highest HIV burdens in the world. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his tenure as Deputy President of South Africa, announced a National Health Workers HIV Plan, in light of an estimated 72% of sex workers in Johannesburg, alone, being HIV-positive. Efforts to promote the use of PrEP hope to combat this and ultimately slow down the transmission rate.

How else can HIV transmission be prevented?

Once you understand the methods of HIV transmission, it becomes clearer to see how the spread of the virus can be curbed and even completely prevented. In South Africa, we place importance on abstinence, using protection if engaging in sexual activity, sterilising needles and committing to the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. We encourage you to speak to your doctor, nurse or clinician for more advice.

Can HIV ever be completely eliminated?

Theoretically, yes. Realistically, there are still many mountains to climb.

Addressing education, healthcare and social or lifestyle challenges requires a lot of energy and resources. We need everyone to take responsibility for learning about, managing, and preventing the spread of HIV to fully eliminate HIV. 

Ultimately, every medical objective revolves around this end goal. Research and development is ongoing for all kinds of treatments and cures: vaccines, tablets, capsules, injections, ointments, implants and more.

Sources: 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

Mayo Clinic. 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

Science Daily. 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

South African Medical Journal. 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

The AIDS Infonet. 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV. 

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After becoming infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body, ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?

  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure, to detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies, through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.

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