I’m now a PrEP convert

I’m Rudy Bessit, a gay 36-year-old Johannesburg actor and writer. I first heard about PrEP two years ago and I started asking around about how (and if) it works. Some of what I heard seemed alarming; someone told me that my kidneys would be affected and the fact that I’d have to take a pill every day felt like too much of a commitment.

I later met people who were on PrEP and enquired some more, but I still wasn’t convinced to start using it. After all, how legit could this be; medication for HIV negative people that actually prevent HIV infection?

Then, while browsing Facebook one day, I saw an ad from Engage Men’s Health with a WhatsApp number. I decided to message and get more info. The person on the other end was very friendly, informative, and that made me comfortable enough to visit the Engage clinic in Johannesburg.

The clinic is situated within an easy-to-find establishment in Melville. It’s clean, modern and felt welcoming. The staff are very friendly, funny and professional at the same time.

Being a freelance actor, I didn’t make an appointment because my days are unpredictable. However, I was still received and treated kindly. I cracked jokes and laughed with the staff throughout my visit.

Once the staff explained to me what I’d be tested for, how PrEP works and how they would monitor my kidneys, I was finally comfortable to start taking the pills.

See, your kidneys can be affected by any medication – not just PrEP. That’s why blood is drawn at the clinic. It’s to check the state of your kidneys before going on the pills. The healthcare worker will check your kidney function every few months to ensure that the medication does not affect these organs negatively. For most people with healthy kidneys, there should be no problem.

They also explained how PrEP arms the white blood cells to prevent HIV-infection, and this got me to understand the legitimacy of the pill. It’s been repeatedly proven to be more than 99% effective if you take it daily.

So why did I think PrEP was for me? I know from experience that one can never be sure how faithful your partner is, or how responsible they are if they did end up sleeping with someone else. You may think you are safe from HIV by having just one partner, but you may be wrong.

Another reason why I felt that PrEP is a good idea is the fact that I can now assist strangers when they’re injured and bleeding without fearing to come into contact with their blood. I’d have far more confidence and courage to get involved.

I started PrEP in September and got a one month supply. For the first three days or so after I started, I felt sleepy and my stomach was looser than usual. By day five, everything was back to normal and I’ve not had any other side effects since then. I returned to the Engage clinic after the first month. I got a three-month supply which is convenient because I won’t have to return to the clinic every single month. And it’s all free!

As a single guy on the dating scene, PrEP has given me real peace of mind that I am protected from HIV. I’ve realised that it is well worth the commitment of taking a pill every day. So call me a convert; I’m now a happy PrEP user!

PrEP has been scientifically proven to be over 99% effective at preventing HIV infection. For free PrEP and other sexual health services contact EMH in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay or Buffalo City on 082 6071686 by either calling or WhatsApp message to set up an appointment. For more PrEP information click here

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Are you prepped for the holidays?

It’s that time of the year again; the last rush before you can relax and spend time with your loved ones. For many, it is also party season, so we’d like to give you a few tips to get prepped for the holidays.

  • It is very tempting to drink a lot when you go out. What many guys forget is that the drink you have now will only hit you in 20 min. So that the double shooter you have five minutes after you had a drink five minutes ago, will also only hit you 20 min later. This means that in 20 min, all three drinks are going to hit you at the same time. Try to pace yourself and have non-alcoholic beverages (or water) in-between.
  • If you are on ARVs or PrEP, make sure that you have enough meds to last you over the period between Christmas and New Year. Throw the tablets onto a small side plate or on a surface where they won’t roll or fall off. Physically count your pills and work out till what date you will have enough.
  • If you need to stock up on PrEP or ARVs, contact your provider asap BEFORE they close over the holidays.
  • We know that this time of the year is crazy busy. It’s for this reason that beyond our regular open hours, Engage Men’s Health in Johannesburg (Melville) will have extended hours till 20:00 on Wednesdays and Fridays and till 17:00 on Saturdays. This is from 1 December up to 20 December. The extended hours, unfortunately, do not apply to our other two branches, but please contact Engage Men’s Health in Buffalo City (010 534 8366) and Engage Men’s Health in Nelson Mandela Bay (010 534 8428) directly to make an appointment to ensure you get your meds sorted before the holidays.
  • If you are on ARVs or PrEP, stash one of your tablets in your wallet or maybe a bag you have with you all the time. Wrap the tablet in cling wrap or in a small sealable packet. This is to prevent the tablet from getting wet or damaged. If you end up hooking up with somebody or crash at a friend’s house, then you don’t need to stress because you will have your meds with you.
  • Do the same with two condoms and two sachets of water-based lube. Just be careful where you keep the condoms so that they don’t get damaged. If you keep condoms on you for a long time, be sure to check their expiry date as the older condoms are, the more likely they may be to tear or break.
  • Another tip is to scan your ARV or PrEP script (if that’s how you get your meds) and then email it to yourself. This will help a lot If you should urgently need to get meds in an unfamiliar place. If for example your bag gets stolen, or you lose your meds, you can go to a pharmacy and show them your scanned script on your phone. Ask them if you can buy loose tablets to carry you through till your next refill when you are back at home.
  • ARVs and PrEP are super effective, but only if you take them as you should. Let’s say the time you normally take your ARVs or PrEP is 20:00. If you forget to take them at 20:00, take them the moment you remember or when you can get to your meds. Then take your meds the same as you normally would.
  • If you are HIV negative and not using PrEP, and you had high-risk exposure to HIV, you need to get PEP. High-risk exposure is for example unprotected sex with somebody you don’t know, or if a condom breaks. This needs to happen within 72 hours (3 days) after the incident. You can go to any clinic, doctor or pharmacy and say you need to get PEP and they tell you what to do.
  • If for some reason you get nauseous and throw up after you took your meds, here’s what to do. If you throw up within 1 hour after you take your meds, you need to retake them. (If you get sick after an hour, you will only have to take meds again the next time you are supposed to.)

For all your sexual health needs for the holidays, including free PrEP, ARVs, HIV self-testing kits, STI screening, condoms, and lube contact Engage Men’s Health on 082 607 1686 (remember, we are closed from 20 Dec 2019 to 6 Jan 2020.)

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