The awareness of the preventive medication for HIV called PrEP has grown rapidly since The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) published a recommendation on the use of PrEP in April 2019. At that time, Hivpoint increased promotion and counselling related to PrEP. Face-to-face PrEP counselling has already been provided to more than 300 clients. There is information available on Hivpoint’s website and PrEP counselling is also offered via phone and chat. Nevertheless many are not yet aware that medical monitoring is an important part of the PrEP treatment.
At the beginning of Hivpoint’s Prevent – Test – Treat – Enjoy! campaign in June 2021, Hivpoint conducted a survey for gay, bi and other men who have sex with men. The aim of the survey was to find out the respondents’ level of knowledge about HIV and other STIs as well as STI testing and prevention. This was tested in the survey with factual statements, and the total number of respondents was 209.
PrEP is well known – monitoring not
The results of the survey showed that PrEP medication is well known among respondents. 86% answered correctly to the following statements:
“PrEP is preventive medicine that needs to be taken before being exposed to HIV. It can be taken daily or on-demand. PrEP effectively prevents HIV in sex without a condom.”
“PrEP protects from HIV but not from other STIs.”
Instead, what is required to use PrEP properly was much less well known. Only 57% of respondents knew this statement: “PrEP treatment should always be under doctor’s supervision, including HIV and other STI tests every 3 months.” This was particularly poorly known among the youngest respondents. Only 25% of those under 25 knew this. People under the age of 25 also knew less than average that PrEP only protects against HIV and it doesn’t give protection against other sexually transmitted infections.
There were other differences in the PrEP knowledge between different groups of respondents, for example in the Helsinki Metropolitan area and Uusimaa the facts related to PrEP were better known than in the rest of the country.
Why is medical monitoring important when using PrEP?
PrEP medication should not be used without medical supervision. HIV infection should be ruled out before starting PrEP treatment. The medication used for PrEP includes the same medicines that are used to treat HIV, but the PrEP medication alone is not enough to treat HIV infection. If an unknowingly HIV-positive person starts using PrEP, it may lead to drug resistance, making it difficult to treat the HIV infection.
Exposure to HIV should be avoided for 4 to 12 weeks before starting PrEP to ensure that one doesn’t have HIV infection before starting the treatment.
Prep treatment includes regular STI tests and monitoring of kidney function
Prep monitoring also includes testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections every three months. In addition HIV is tested after one month of starting the medication to rule out a fresh infection.
Monitoring of PrEP medication is also important because of possible side effects. The doctor will discuss about diseases related to bones and kidney function with the client initiating the PrEP treatment. In addition to STI tests, monitoring also includes a test measuring kidney function every three months. In general, the PrEP medicine is well tolerated without side effects.
When planning to apply for PrEP, it is a good idea to be aware of the PrEP follow-ups. This way, you are better motivated to use PrEP as instructed and remember to take the tests every three months. PrEP is effective in preventing HIV infection when used properly and monitored by a doctor.