A few years ago, an HIV infection equaled a death sentence and people died within the first 3 years of contracting the virus. But this is now changing with the advancement of anti-retroviral therapy (ART). Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) are a type of treatment of infections by retroviruses, primarily the HIV virus.
They do not cure the disease completely but are capable of reducing the viral load in a patient’s body to untraceable levels or at least to levels where the virus’ ability to hinder normal healthy living are low.
HIV reduces the capability of the body’s immune system hence exposing it to diseases called opportunistic infections.
HIV patients, therefore, succumb to these opportunistic infections and not the HIV virus. It is important to take these ARVs in order to reduce the strength of HIV and its ability to break down the body’s immune system.
There are testimonies of people who have lived with HIV for more than 25 years and also of children born with HIV who have lived with it for 25 years.
These testimonies should convince any HIV patient who is wallowing in self-pity to get up and take charge of their destiny.
HIV doesn’t have to progress into AIDS, a condition and stage of HIV that is closely followed by death. ARVs can help with this.
HIV has claimed so many of our friends, relatives, mothers, fathers and neighbors. We should not allow this deadly disease to claim more lives.
By the end of 2005 an estimated 24.5 million people were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. In that same year two million people died of AIDS leaving 12 million orphans.
In Rwanda alone 21,000 people died of AIDS leaving behind 210,000 orphans. HIV/AIDS is therefore a very big concern not only in Rwanda but also in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is our mandate to reduce the number of new infections through the ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condom use + Circumcision) strategy and to encourage ART for the people living with HIV.
A combination of the above will greatly reduce the deaths occurring in the pandemic.
Before starting ART, a patient needs to undergo certain tests to find out when to start the treatment. Avoid self-medication because there are some considerations that should be accounted for before the treatment is carried out.
Doctors carry out tests on the CD4 count, the viral load and possible drug resistance of the patient.
The viral load refers to the amount of HIV in someone’s blood while the CD4 count is a test that measures the amount of T-helper cells found in the patient’s blood.
A reduced number of T-helper cells reduce the body’s immunity because T-helper cells co-ordinate other cells to fight illnesses.
HIV damages and destroys these cells making the body susceptible to various illness / opportunistic diseases like Tuberculosis, herpes zoster, skin ailments, malaria etc.
Some doctors recommend ART when a patient has got a CD4 count less than 350 T-helper cells per cubic millimeter of blood while others say that a CD4 count of below 500 T-helper cells per cubic millimeter of blood is a sign that some one should start ART.
These considerations vary from country to country.
However, ART does not come without challenges to some patients.
Some patients show drug resistance to certain drug combinations while others face drug side-effects ranging from mild irritations to very serious medical problems in which case a doctor’s advice is required in order to take the necessary course of action.
Some of the common side effects are mild headaches, stomach aches, dry skin, nausea, vomiting, nightmares, mental confusion and others. The effects, however, vary from patient to patient.
ART is safe and is recommended for both children and pregnant mothers. In fact, in pregnant mothers it goes along way in reducing the viral load and in protecting the un- born child from contracting the virus.
These days it is possible for an HIV mother to give birth to a healthy and HIV negative baby thanks to ART.
ART can also be used to stop the mutation and replication of HIV in cases of accidental exposure to the virus, for example, in cases of rape, as long as the treatment is started within the first 72 hours after exposure.
The victim has to undergo ART for about three months. This is called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).This can help prevent contamination of the victim’s blood in which case the victim has a chance of not contracting the virus.
ART should, however, be combined with proper nutrition and other forms of therapy in order to keep healthy in mind, body and soul.
Support from family and friends cannot be undermined and a campaign against stigma is important. A combination of
ART and the above can greatly improve the quality of life for people living with HIV.