A FEW days ago, I read a report in a local daily about a HIV positive patient’s health regime without medication. I would like to point out that anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is the gold standard for HIV treatment recommended by international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While ART does not cure HIV infection, it provides people with HIV the opportunity to lead long and healthy lives. Globally, according to WHO estimates, 21.7 million out of 36.9 million people living with HIV in 2017 were receiving ART. This resulted in a 35% decline in the number of deaths due to HIV.
Many studies have shown that when taken correctly, HIV treatment can prolong the life span of patients by an additional 30 to 45 years. Another benefit of ART is the prevention of transmission of the virus.
ART can lead to side effects, but they are mostly manageable. Some side effects, like headaches or occasional dizziness, can be transient in nature. However, the benefits of HIV medicines far outweigh the risk of side effects.
In Malaysia, ART is given free of charge from all the healthcare facilities under the Health Ministry. It is very important for people living with HIV who are on ART to be on long-term follow-up by their healthcare providers.
We cannot ignore the importance of mental health in people living with HIV. There are ways of improving mental health through interactions with support groups from non-governmental organisations, meditation, yoga and psychological counselling.
I would like to stress again that the benefits of ART far outweigh the side effects and I would encourage all people living with HIV to continue taking their ART without missing doses or stopping them altogether.
DR CHOW TING SOO
Malaysia Society of HIV Medicine (MASHM)