Sex workers in the Central region are abandoning the use of condoms to protect themselves and their clients, instead choosing to use pre-exposure (PrEP) and post-exposure (PEP) prophylaxis drugs.
The drugs, which are supposed to be prescribed in health facilities, are now being sold on the black market.
According to Central Region HIV/Aids Programme Coordinator Francis Githae, PrEP and PEP drugs are being consumed freely.
“PrEP tablets are supposed to be given to people who have been tested and confirmed to be HIV negative. PEP tablets are given to patients who have had unprotected sex and are HIV negative. We have people who bypass this procedure. They perceive themselves as HIV negative and proceed to swallow the tablets as they would githeri,” he said.
He added that there is an injection alternative to the PrEP tablets, which is given bi-monthly, but this was not being abused because of the technicalities involved in accessing it.
To meet the demand, tablets are being stolen from hospitals and sold on the streets, while others present themselves at hospitals faking exposure to HIV and receiving the PEP dose, which they then sell.
Miriam Maina, the health coordinator for commercial sex workers in Thika town, said the misuse of the tablets was a result of several factors.
“The government has not been supplying sex workers with enough condoms, so there is a huge shortage. We have also been giving these tablets to our members for free. These days, people are educating themselves online about the milestones achieved so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS and many have this information about how PrEP and PEP help to keep the virus at bay,” she said.
She added that competitiveness in the sex trade has increased incidences of unprotected sex.
“Some men simply walk into a sex den and announce that they will pay more for unprotected sex. Workers armed with the tablets take the business,” she said.
The Nation found that a PrEP tablet costs between Sh50 and Sh200 while PEP costs between Sh500 and Sh3,000 for the 28 tablets. We were able to buy 90 PEP tablets for Sh1,500 in Makutano town in Embu County and 60 PrEP tablets for Sh800 in Karatina town, all with government “Not for Sale” stickers.
“Any other time you want to restock, just call me. My contacts at the local pharmacy (public hospital) can supply as many as you can afford,” said the Karatina town vendor.
In Makutano and Thika towns, we were able to buy the drugs from government employees.
Kiambu, Nyandarua, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Nyeri governors have come together to fight cartels that steal drugs from hospitals and sell them.
“Some of the medicines that we have identified as being stolen at a very high rate are those associated with the management of HIV/AIDS,” said Kiambu Governor Kimani Wamatangi.
Murang’a Medical Superintendent Leonald Gikera said those who misuse the tablets are doing themselves more harm than good.
“If you take these tablets when you are already HIV positive, you are not helping yourself because what you need is a dose of anti-retroviral drugs. By the time you realise the damage you are doing to your system, it could be too late,” he said.
Faith Ndung’u, the Aids Healthcare Foundation Programme Development and Advocacy Manager, said the government needs to come up with a mechanism to stem the acute shortage of condoms.
Self-styled Condom King Stanley Ngara also lamented that politicians have failed to make condom use a national issue.