THE National Aids Council (Nac) has painted a grim picture about the status of rape victims with latest statistics indicating that over 80% of them were failing to access life-saving post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) drugs to prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV infections.
By Phyllis Mbanje
In its quarterly report for January to April this year, Nac said out of 1 855 sexually-abused clients, only 323 were able to access PEP services within the prescribed 72-hour time frame.
PEP, according to the World Health Organisation, is short-term antiretroviral treatment to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, either occupationally or through sexual intercourse.
For many people that are accidentally exposed to HIV, PEP provides a single opportunity to prevent HIV after exposure. Such accidental exposures may be among health care workers who had needle stick injuries or among adults and children who survived sexual violence.
“PEP is not highly publicised and so many victims are only concerned about the trauma and seldom think about this facility which reduces chances of getting infected,” Nac spokesperson Tadiwa Pfupa said.
Pfupa said there was a lot of stigma around issues to do with rape and so many victims delayed making a police report within the stipulated time frame.
“Women will most likely think that people will judge them and suggest that they sort of encouraged the rapist and they are delaying the process,” she said.
The Nac spokesperson also noted that female victims were concerned more about falling pregnant and do not really think about getting infected with HIV.
“Then there is the tedious process at the clinics that provide for this service. Because they are public institutions, it takes a bit of time to get through the processes and this discourages many and can be daunting to victims who are already traumatised,” she said.
However, Owen Mugurungi, director of the Aids and TB unit in the Ministry of Health, said the service was widely available at all centres that provided antiretroviral therapy (ART).
“The issue is on awareness. Most people are not conversant with PEP and so miss out on the opportunity to prevent being infected,” he said.
Mugurungi said it was sad that victims took long in reporting to police and ultimately delay the treatment which is available within two weeks of the sexual assault. “Ideally, we say within 72 hours, but we offer that treatment up to two weeks from the date of the sexual assault,” he said