HIV treatments are made up of combinations of (usually three) HIV antiretroviral drugs. These treatments are very effective at stopping HIV from reproducing, which keeps the immune system strong so it can fight infection. Treatments reduce and often prevent long term health issues related to HIV. Treatments today are much easier to take, with far fewer side effects than in the past.
HIV treatments come in different ‘classes’, each of which works in a different way to make it difficult for HIV to multiply. There is a range of different drugs in each class. While drugs in the same class share characteristics, there are also differences. For example, some are more effective at stopping HIV replication, some may inhibit HIV entering cells, while others are less likely to trigger certain side-effects.
HIV treatments used to involve multiple doses of different drugs taken at specific times each day (some before and some with food), which often meant complicated medication schedules. For most people, such complex drug routines are a thing of the past. Although most people now take a combination of three drugs from at least two drug classes, separate treatments are often co-formulated and combined into a single pill to reduce the number of pills people need to take. Many people with HIV now take their HIV antiretroviral treatment in a single pill each day. Your doctor may also prescribe other prophylactics: drugs or precautionary measures to prevent you developing opportunistic infections or other medical complications.
HIV antiretroviral treatments are subsidised by the government under the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme), although most states and territories include a ‘co-payment’ where you pay a small portion of the full cost. If you find yourself under financial stress, there are financial assistance programs for people with HIV. Contact your local AIDS Council or PLHIV organisation for information. If you do not have a Medicare card you will still be able to access ongoing HIV health care. Your HIV doctor will be able to assist you to get access to HIV treatments. For general information on accessing treatment without Medicare, check out AFAO’s Next Steps website.
HIV treatments may also be available through clinical drug trials which aim to assess the effectiveness and safety of new drugs or new ways of using currently available drugs. Ask your health care provider if you are interested in this aspect of care.