For community members in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a project to expand HIV health and social assistance services is bringing innovative preventive care to people at risk for HIV. With the support of ICAP, the Almaty Model of HIV Epidemic Control project introduced a new pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) program to combat the high prevalence of HIV in the city.
“PrEP became available in Almaty as a part of a combined approach to HIV prevention. The ‘prevention package’ includes regular HIV testing, screening for sexually transmitted infections, and counselling,” says Marat Tukeyev, chief physician of the AIDS Center in Almaty.
A key intervention to reduce new HIV infections, PrEP is the use of medications to prevent acquisition of HIV. When taken daily, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%.
“I am less worried about getting HIV even when the condom breaks. At the same time, I carefully monitor my health and constantly get tested for HIV. I got a sense of safety and security thanks to PrEP,” says Adeline, a community member in Almaty.
Experts at ICAP in Kazakhstan trained health care workers from the Almaty AIDS Center and non-governmental organizations on the basics of PrEP, adapting ICAP’s PrEP Package Toolkit to the Kazakhstan context. Additionally, ICAP specialists provided mentorship and assisted to develop patient care maps that detail what needs to happen from the moment of entering the health facility to receiving necessary consultations, laboratory tests, and medications.
Since the April 2021 launch, the life-changing program has enrolled more than 70 people at risk of acquiring HIV, bringing a sense of safety to community members like Michelle. In Kazakhstan, one in six people living with HIV reside in Almaty.
“There are many people living with HIV. Many of them are either unaware of their status, or they know about it, but are not adherent to antiretroviral therapy,” said Michelle. “There is a high risk of HIV infection, so it makes sense to me to take PrEP.”
The power of PrEP to help individuals stay healthy and safe from HIV is undeniable in Kazakhstan and beyond. Alex, one of the first community members that started PrEP agreed, “I feel safer now that I take PrEP because there are people who either do not know their HIV status or hide it. I worry about not only my health, but also about the health of my potential partners.”
The Almaty Model for Epidemic Control is funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation through the RADIAN initiative to create and implement a cost-effective and sustainable city program that works effectively to achieve HIV epidemic control in Almaty by 2024. The project is implemented by a consortium of local organizations under the coordination of ICAP in Kazakhstan.
Anna Deryabina, MD, DrPH, MScIH, regional director of ICAP in Central Asia, said, “I hope the roll-out and quality implementation of PrEP, especially among gay and transgender people, will help the city to reduce new HIV infections and achieve epidemic control.”