HIV Treatments

There are different times when you might want to seek advice or support about HIV treatments:

  • Starting treatment for the first time
  • Experiencing challenges with treatment
  • Thinking about switching treatments

While Living Positive Victoria can give you valuable information and referrals regarding treatments always speak with your S100 prescriber when making treatment related decisions.

Download a Position Statement on Early HIV Treatment for Individual Benefit and for Prevention.

As of 1 July 2015, HIV medicines can be collected by arrangement from community pharmacies. The downloadable PDF resource Community Pharmacy Dispensing for HIV Medicines explains how you can organise to collect medicines at your local pharmacy and looks at some of the questions and concerns HIV positive people have raised about the process.

Starting treatment for the first time

In May 2015, a major international HIV treatment trial announced results ahead of the formal conclusion date announcing that there was conclusive evidence that starting treatment as soon as possible was of benefit to the individual living with HIV. Living Positive Victoria applauded this result as proof that early treatment is in the best interest of the individual living with HIV. 

The experience of taking HIV treatments has changed considerably over time.  Many people starting treatment for the first time can expect to take one pill per day with minimal or manageable side effects.  Living Positive Victoria has produced a resource on the top ten myths and misconceptions about HIV treatments.

People living with HIV are being encouraged to consider starting treatment earlier than before.  Recommendations about when to start are based on your CD4 count — the number of a particular type of immune system cell in a mL of blood.  The risk of illness increases as your CD4 count decreases.

Studies prove that starting earlier reduces your risk of serious illness in future and the risk of passing HIV on.

The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) offers suggestions for making your own personal choice on when to start treatment.  Some factors to consider include:

  • Measures of activity and impact of the virus on your immune system (viral load and CD4 count)
  • Both HIV and non HIV-related health issues you may be experiencing or want to prevent
  • Wanting to reduce the risk of onward transmission of HIV

The key thing is starting when you are ready. As the NAPWHA resource states:

Even with advanced treatments and improved knowledge of the benefits of treating HIV, starting treatment is a personal decision.  Many people need time to adjust to their diagnosis and also to prepare taking treatment on a daily basis.  Research tells us that the psychological readiness of people starting treatment is one of the best predictors of successful treatment in the long term.  In short, treatment works best when people are ready, willing and able.

In making your decision, it might help to speak with other people living with HIV about their experience of taking HIV treatments. There are 2 main opportunities to do this in a safe, friendly, confidential environment:

  • One on one support - We have people working in HIV Peer Support/Education. You can have a personal chat with someone who knows firsthand what it’s like being on treatments and the challenges that go with it
  • Group/workshop support in the Phoenix workshop join a group of other newly or recently diagnosed people and share your feelings and hear theirs around commencing treatments

If you are still thinking about it, consider taking part in a study to help researchers and community organisations understand the reasons people have for using and not using treatment.

I’m experiencing challenges with treatment

‘Adherence’ refers to taking HIV medication every day around the same time.  Keeping this consistency helps avoid giving HIV an opportunity to develop resistance against the medications you’re taking.

Some of the challenges that can arise around treatment include:

Living Positive Victoria has people living with HIV and on treatments with enough information to help you with your treatment decisions. However, as we have emphasized above - While Living Positive Victoria can give you valuable information and referrals regarding treatments always speak with your S100 prescriber when making treatment related decisions.

NAPWHA maintains a database of HIV treatments that lists dosages and common and less common side effects.  Your doctor can often advise how common the side effects are in clinical experience.

Thinking about switching treatments

AIDSMap has a resource for people who are thinking about changing their HIV treatment combination. 

Historically, the main reason to change was when viral load increased, suggesting that resistance was developing to one or more of the drugs in the treatment combination.

The AIDSMap resource notes that you might consider making a change even when viral load remains suppressed, e.g. to simplify your regimen or ‘switch out’ a drug that is causing a side effect you find difficult to live with.

This is something to discuss with your doctor.  Living Positive Victoria and NAPWHA have resources and staff that can help you have an informed conversation with your doctor.   

HIV Resources

Living Positive Victoria has a range of resources and fact sheet available. Simply contact our office and we will arrange to mail you the relevant resources for you.

 
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