it took me two hiv scare to get on PrEP

My name is Richard Akuson. It took two HIV scare for me to get real about my sexual health choices and get on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP).

I recently read somewhere that PrEP is the choice of a new generation — and truly, it is!  Three months ago, I made this same choice of taking my sexual health seriously; into my own hands, and not just relying on the other person to be truthful about their status, or simply trusting we both share the same status, as I always did.

For someone who honestly dislikes using condoms, but sometimes does, I had always lived with a nagging anxiety of not knowing, and never caring enough to really wanting to know the possible consequences of my actions. I’d usually have unsafe sex as the spirit led, often praying in my heart — during sex — for yet another chance to make smarter, better choices. I knew to live like that was not a responsible way of going about life for myself and the partners I involved myself with. It would take me a couple of months to finally equip myself with all the information that I’d need to make a sound decision to go on PrEp.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) says PrEP ” is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. A combination of two HIV medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine), sold under the name Truvada® (pronounced tru vá duh), is approved for daily use as PrEP to help prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV from a sexual or injection-drug-using partner who’s positive.” The CDC further states that:  “Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV if it is used as prescribed. PrEP is much less effective when it is not taken consistently.”

Richard Akuson, photographed by Terna Iwar

Discovering PrEP, and realizing how highly effective PrEP is for preventing HIV, for me, felt like finally being able to breathe without holding back for fear of the unknown. I mean, all I could think of was how I could have peace of mind having sex without a condom (which I genuinely enjoy), fully knowing that I made a smart and responsible choice. PrEP, however, does not protect against STIs, like gonorrhea, Chlamydia, or syphilis, according to the CDC. However, PrEPfacts.org states that “If you use PrEP consistently and correctly, it is 92%–99% effective in reducing your HIV risk, whether you use a condom or not.”

Five days ago, I started taking PrEP. I have not witnessed any major side effects besides slight drowsiness and hypersalivation that I experienced the first two days, most of which has stopped. As part of an ongoing research by my health care provider, International Centre for Advocacy on Rights to Health (or ICARH), an Abuja-based NGO that promotes advocacy and rights to health for sexual minorities and key populations, I underwent a series of HIV (and other STIs) tests, Kidney and Liver functioning tests to check my eligibility for the pills. I thought it was the most thorough health examination that I’ve ever had to undergo but, by far the most exhilarating and empowering thing I’ve done all year long, and it’s completely free!

I strongly advise anyone reading this to consider going on PrEP if HIV-negative. If you’re not sure of your status—get tested, and if HIV-positive—HIV today is a manageable disease; work with your doctor to get linked into HIV care and start getting the treatment you need to maintain your health. There’s nothing as powerful as knowing your status and taking responsible and smart choices for yourself.

Finally, if you’re in Lagos, Nigeria, and curious about where (and how) to get PrEP for free, The Initiative for Equal Rights (or TIERS) just started issuing PrEP eight weeks ago. If you’re in Abuja, definitely pay ICARH a visit. Reach out to them, they’ll be happy to talk to you about this and other aspects of your sexual health.

 

To learn more about PrEP, its side effects, and other frequently asked questions, click (here) for everything you need to know.

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