Anti-AIDS Program for Rape Victims Called a Success
The French PEP program requires that patients be seen on a weekly basis. Even though drugs are given for only one month, the weekly visits continue for six months -- visits that are especially important for rape victims, who experience serious psychological distress.
"When you follow a person for six months, you can talk with them about drug side effects and sexuality and feelings," Derouineau says. "I think drugs are just one part of the treatment."
One reason U.S. government officials have been reluctant to initiate PEP programs is the fear that people will abandon safe-sex practices and instead rely on AIDS drugs for protection.
"We never have seen people stopping safe sex and relying on PEP," Derouineau says. "We can say for sure that nobody abuses this treatment."
But one U.S. expert says much more study is needed before PEP can be made standard care for rape victims here.
Health care experts need not only to determine whether PEP really can head off HIV infections, but to weigh the risk individual rape victims face, says Jefferey Lennox, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious disease at Emory University and medical director of the Grady Health System Infectious Disease Program, both in Atlanta.
He explains that the need for PEP will differ from country to country and even from region to region within countries. The percentage of people who are HIV-positive in any one area differs around the world, he says, and, therefore, so does the risk that a rape victim will contract the virus.
"It's a very complicated issue," Lennox says.