What is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)?
ART are medications used to treat HIV. The drugs do not kill or cure the virus. However, when taken in combination they can prevent the growth and spread of the virus to the entire body.
Standard therapy (ART) consists of the combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease. ART also prevents onward transmission of HIV. There has been a huge reduction in death rates and infections when antiretrovirals are used, particularly in early stages of the disease. it is recommendable to start ART immediately after diagnosis irrespective of the CD4 count.
It is also a recommendable offer of pre-exposure prophylaxis to people at substantial risk of HIV infection as a prevention choice.
How does ART work?
HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells of the immune system. CD4 cells fight against infections of the body. Loss of CD4 cells makes it hard for the body to fight off infections.
HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body.
Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover.
Even though there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.
By reducing the amount of HIV in the body, HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
When is the best time to start ART?
ART is recommended for everyone infected with HIV.
It helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
It should begin as soon as the person is diagnosed, especially people with the following conditions;
- Certain HIV-related illnesses and co-infections
- Early HIV infection
All pregnant women with HIV should take HIV medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The HIV medicines will also protect the health of the pregnant woman.
Women who are already taking HIV medicines when they become pregnant should continue taking HIV medicines throughout their pregnancies.
When HIV infection is diagnosed during pregnancy, ART should be started right away.
However not all ART drugs can be taken during pregnancy. Speak with your doctor if your HIV drugs are compartible with pregnancy.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS should start ART immediately.
Certain HIV-related illnesses and co-infections
Some illnesses that develop in people infected with HIV increase the urgency to start ART.
These illnesses include HIV-related kidney disease and certain opportunistic infections.
Co-infection with HIV and certain other infections, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection, increases the urgency to start ART.
Early HIV infection
Early HIV infection is the period up to 6 months after infection with HIV.
During early HIV infection, the level of HIV in the body (called viral load) is very high.
A high viral load damages the immune system and increases the risk of HIV transmission.
Key Points to Remember
- Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
- People with HIV should start ART as soon as possible. It’s especially important for people with the following conditions to start ART right away: pregnancy, AIDS, certain HIV-related illnesses and co-infections, and early HIV infection.
- Before starting ART, people with HIV should discuss the benefits and risks of ART with their doctors. They should also discuss the importance of taking HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.