World Aids Day: This is how to reduce your risk of getting HIV (a WHO guide)

On World Aids Day, designated on the 1st of December each year, the WHO released a brief guide with 5 recommendations on how one can reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

We have explained these recommendations in more depth below, and hope that they can be helpful for anyone curious about how to engage in safer sex and reduce their risk of getting HIV.

Using condoms

The use of condoms is considered as one of the safest ways to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are cheap, effective and easy to access. Although they do not completely eliminate the risk of contracting HIV, condoms are highly effective in most cases as they prevent the passing of fluids between partners and thus highly limit the risk of infection. There are both men and women condoms, wherein the former are worn on the penis and the latter are worn inside the vagina.

Ensuring that your partners who are living with HIV are taking treatment

Although there isn’t any medicine yet that can eradicate HIV, the virus can be managed with the use of antiviral medications. These medications help lower the level of HIV found in the blood (called viral load) and in other bodily fluids such as semen, anal and vaginal fluids. If taken correctly and consistently, such levels can become undetectable. According to the CDC, an undetectable viral load is considered to be fewer than 200 copies per milliliter (mL) of blood. If your partner is HIV positive, it is important to ensure that they take their medications correctly and consistently. The support you provide to an HIV positive partner is particularly crucial as it motivates them to stay on track with their health while at the same time reducing your risk of transmission.

Using PrEP to prevent getting HIV if you have ongoing risk, including during pregnancy

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a preventative medication used to prevent the contraction of HIV. For women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, PrEP can also be an effective method to protect them and their baby from getting HIV. Taken once per day, this medication stops HIV from infecting cells in the immune system. It reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex by more than 90%, and 70% for those who inject drugs. This medication is particularly useful for people who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting it, such as people having sex with HIV positive partners with detectable loads, or whose statuses are unknown.

In order to ensure an effective PrEP regimen, it is essential to get screened for HIV before starting the medications, and every three months after.

It is important to note however that PrEP:

  • Becomes effective one to three weeks after starting the medication
  • Isn’t as effective for anal sex as it is for vaginal sex
  • Doesn’t protect against all STIs

Therefore, it is highly recommended to still use a condom in order to more effectively reduce the risk of contracting HIV and STIs.

Using sterile needles and syringes for all injections

Whether it is for a medical injection or for the injection of drugs, it is crucial to avoid sharing needles and syringes with anyone as this increases the risk of contracting HIV and other infections found in the blood.

Sharing needles, or using unsterilised needles is highly unrecommended as through injection, there can be residues of blood in the needles or syringes. If the same needles or syringes have been used by an HIV infected person, there is a high risk to inject HIV infected blood into the bloodstream, and transmit the infection as a result.

For anyone having a difficulty accessing new needles or syringes, please note that it is possible in some countries to get your used needles exchanged for new ones at no cost in pharmacies.

Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections

In order to keep track of your health and avoid the spread of HIV and STIs, it is crucial to get tested regularly. For people who are sexually active, it is recommended to get tested every 3 months and/or between each partner. This helps ensure that if there is infection, treatment can be pursued on time, which prevents the condition from getting more serious and reduces risks of transmission.

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