Communicable Diseases Module: 22. Introduction to Antiretroviral Therapy

Study Session 22  Introduction to Antiretroviral Therapy


In this study session you will learn about the main therapy used to treat people living with HIV (PLHIV), and its benefits and goals, so that you will be able to help patients get the full benefits of the treatment, and maintain their health for as long as possible. The treatment used for HIV-positive people is called antiretroviral therapy, which can be shortened to ART. It consists of giving drugs termed antiretrovirals (ARVs), which work by attacking the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) itself.

For ART to be successful, you should be aware of two things. First, ARV drugs should be given in the correct way; that means using a combination of three ARVs which act on the virus differently. Secondly, ART should be given continuously as a lifelong treatment. In addition to improving the quality of life for patients, ART also has the benefits of reducing stigma and discrimination, and increasing the chances of PLHIV going to HIV/AIDS services to ask for help.

Even though you are not expected to prescribe ART for patients, you need to be familiar with the basic concepts and the most common adverse side-effects of the drugs. This information will help you to provide good care for PLHIV who are being treated with ARVs. Remember that drug treatments for chronic diseases require adherence, which means taking medications as instructed by the prescribing health professional. It is also important for you to trace ‘treatment defaulters’ (PLHIV who stop taking their medications), to reduce the consequences for the patient, and for public health at large.

Adherence and defaulter tracing, in the context of HIV/AIDS, are discussed in Study Session 23 of this Module.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 22