What should I do if I may have been exposed to HIV?
In countries and locations where you cannot be reasonably assured to get the necessary emergency medication in emergency rooms of hospitals, the UN system ensures that Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) kits are available in UN system offices and are made available to all UN personnel and their family members.
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Kits comprises of 28 days emergency medical treatment of antiretroviral therapy that can be used for an HIV-negative person following an accidental exposure to HIV (continue reading for reasons the antiretroviral medication of the kit might be harmful for a person living with HIV), emergency contraception, a pregnancy test, instructions for use and a reporting form. Taking antiretroviral medicines as Post-Exposure Prophylaxis should be viewed very seriously; antiretroviral medicines should not be considered as an alternative to practicing safer sex.
If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV - for example, in the event of a sexual assault, as a result of an accident, criminal assault or security incident, or while giving first aid to an injured person who might be infected** and you know that you are HIV-negative, you should contact the PEP Kit custodian at your duty station. If you don't know who has been appointed to this important task, here are ways you can find out:
- contact the local office of UN Designated Official for Security (usually the Resident Coordinator's Office)
- contact the UN Medical Services if one exists at your duty station
- contact your human resources officer
If you are living with HIV you should not take the antiretroviral medication in the PEP Kit, as it might harm you by increasing the risk of developing resistance towards these medications and therefore reducing future therapeutic options, when you need them. If you were the target of a sexual assault, and are female, you may want to follow the procedures for emergency contraception.
Ideally, prophylaxis (taking the antiretroviral medication) should be started within 1 to 2 hours - but certainly no later than 72 hours - after possible HIV exposure. Data suggests that the earlier the treatment is commenced, the greater the likelihood of success. It is a good idea to enquire how PEP Kits may be accessed and to note the name of the Kit holder/custodian before a potential exposure occurs. We suggest that you write the name of the custodian on an "awareness card" and that you carry the card with you at all times. In some countries, such as in North America and parts of Europe, post-exposure prophylaxis is not available through the UN system since it can be obtained in the emergency room of any hospital.
In some cases there is neither access to a PEP Kit nor a facility to provide one within your particular country. The Designated Official for Security (usually the Resident Coordinator) is required to ensure the establishment of a Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Emergency Protocol, which will identify the nearest regional medical evacuation centre where comprehensive follow-up can take place, including the quickest evacuation route(s) and method(s) for achieving this. Please contact your Designated Official if you find yourself in such a situation.
** UN Personnel are expected to use all precautionary measures to avoid any possible exposure to HIV. PEP Kits are intended for use by HIV-negative persons in the event of accidental exposure to HIV. The PEP Kits are available to UN personnel and their immediate dependents who may have been accidentally exposed to HIV, irrespective of the means of exposure. Antiretroviral medications are a serious treatment taken under the supervision of a physician for an entire month that may cause various side-effects.
- Further information on PEP is available on the WHO website.
- A document for UN country teams and physicians with details of the HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) Kits (updated April 2019)