Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Never Miss a Dose: The Vital Importance of Treatment When You Have HIV-Infection

By Leslie Vandever, guest blogger

Your body’s tough. Its immune system produces protective T (thymus) cells to fight off infection by viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders from outside. Your T-cells step up and squash these malicious invaders before they can wreak havoc and make you sick.

But the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, specifically goes after and kills T-cells. In time, it kills off so many that there aren’t enough left to fight off the usual infections and diseases we’re all exposed to every day. The result is AIDS—acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

When you have AIDS, you can get very sick, very quickly. Overcoming each illness requires monumental effort, and each battle leaves your body weaker. Eventually, one or more diseases or infections take over. Weakened and unable to fight back, you’ll die.

That’s the bleak truth about HIV/AIDS. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So far, medical science hasn’t been able to find a cure for HIV, but antiretroviral treatments (ARVs) inhibit the virus in a number of ways, including its ability to reproduce. ARVs keep your “viral load” under control and your T-cells numerous enough to protect you from other viruses and diseases.

And that’s why it’s so important for you to take your HIV medications exactly as prescribed. Even a single missed dose can allow HIV to replicate and function better, making it that much harder for the ARV to bring it back under control. If you periodically skip doses or stop taking the medication temporarily, you’re setting your body up for AIDS.

Medication non-compliance is a well-known, widespread problem.

Open pill bottle next to an alarm clock

Missing medication doses or messing them up can happen to anyone, not just patients living with HIV-infection. Sometimes taking a dose is inconvenient—we’re not near a water source, or we’re otherwise occupied at the time we should be taking them and then forget to take them later. We’re all human. It happens.

Other reasons for ARV non-compliance are more complicated—and potentially more serious. According to a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal LGBT Health, mental health issues like depression, and substance abuse—particularly alcohol and crystal methamphetamine—are prevalent among gay, LGBT, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). They can  have a profound and disastrous effect on an individual’s ability to stick to ARVs.

Just getting through each day can be a huge challenge if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The mind detaches from normal reasoning. It means that taking medication requiring complicated, closely timed dosing, while not impossible, can be close to it.

Drug and alcohol abuse scrambles the mind and reality—and here, too, adhering to a medication schedule becomes extremely difficult. Addiction to the abused substance further complicates the problem.

If you are living with HIV-infection, ARV non-compliance can have deadly consequences. Here are some tips to help make taking your meds easier:

  • Understand what you’re taking. Have your health care provider write down the names of your medications, what each of them looks like, and when and how often you need to take them. Keep this info handy for easy reference.
  • Get pillboxes that hold a week’s worth of doses, divided into different times of the day (morning, noon, night, for instance). Fill them at the beginning of each week.
  • Plan for changes in your regular routine, such as vacations or evenings out.
  • Make sure you always have enough medicine. Refill bottles as soon as you’re able.
  • Take your medicines at the same time each day to make taking them a habit.
  • If your meds are causing side-effects that make it hard for you to take them, talk to your provider ASAP. They may be able to change the med or suggest ways to cope with the side-effect that helps you comply with dosing.
  • If you’re experiencing mental health issues or abusing drugs or alcohol, seek help.

Having HIV-infection is no longer a death sentence. But staying well requires medication, discipline and an understanding of the disease and how it’s treated. Talk to your provider if you have questions.

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California where she writes for Healthline.

A Timeline of AIDD. (n.d.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on June 2, 2014 from
About HIV/AIDS. (2014, Feb. 12) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on June 3, 2014 from
Medication Adherence. (2009, Aug. 9) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on June 3, 2014 from
Adherence. (n.d.) New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on June 3, 2014 from
White, J. M., et al. The Role of Substance Use and Mental Health Problems in Medication Adherence Among HIV-Infected MSM. (2014, June 6) LGBT Health. Retrieved on June 18, 2014 from

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things...

It is that time again, when ordinary people are recognized for doing extraordinary things! On May 27th, a Call for Nominations was issued by the ADAP Advocacy Association for its 2014 Annual ADAP Leadership Awards. Now in its 4th year, these awards are designed to recognize individual, community, government and corporate leaders who are working to improve access to care and treatment under the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs).

Image of an ADAP Leadership Award
This year's awards will be presented on Monday, August 5th during the ADAP Advocacy Association's 7th Annual Conference, being held at the Westin Washington City Center in Washington, DC. People living with HIV/AIDS have described the event has uplighting. Advocates have said the event reminded them of why they fight the good fight against the disease. There are some good laughs; there are definitely a lot of tears!

Bill Arnold, President & CEO of the Community Access National Network (CANN) and co-chair of the aaa+® board of directors said this about last year's event: “But one memorable highlight for many of us who have been doing this work for a long time was presenting former governor and HHS secretary Tommy Thompson with our Lifetime Achievement Award. His acceptance speech reminded everyone why we do this work for a living.” 

A Call for Nominations has been issued for the following awards:
  • ADAP Champion of the Year (individual)
  • ADAP Emerging Leader of the Year (individual)
  • ADAP Corporate Partner of the Year
  • ADAP Community Organization of the Year
  • ADAP Lawmaker of the Year
  • ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year
  • ADAP Grassroots Campaign of the Year
  • ADAP Media Story of the Year
CLICK HERE to nominate a colleague, or submit a nomination to recognize an organization.

CLICK HERE to purchase a ticket to the awards dinner.