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 an mL of blood. The risk of illness increases as your CD4 count decreases.
In May 2015, an international HIV treatment trial called Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START) announced that there was conclusive evidence that starting treatment as soon as possible was beneficial to 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. Click to can read more about treatment as prevention and the top ten myths and misconceptions about HIV treatments.
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. You can read more from NAPWHA here.
To help track your progress, iPlan is designed to help people living with HIV become active partners in their health care. It also aims to help people understand and monitor some of the more important health concerns people with HIV may need or choose to explore.
In making your decision, it might help to speak with other people living with HIV about their experience of taking HIV treatments. Living Positive Victoria offers a couple ways to do this in safe and confidential environment:
- One on one support – We have people working as HIV Peer Support/Education coordinators who that have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like being on treatments and the challenges that go with it.
- Phoenix workshop – This group for newly or recently diagnosed people is a space where you can share your feelings and questions about treatment amongst people who are in a similar situation.
If you are still unsure about starting treatment consider taking part in an anonymous online study by the University of New South Wales to help researchers and community organisations understand the reasons people have for using and not using treatment.
More information can be found here: www.artuse.csrh.org