How does knowing your HIV status help you control your life?

HIV is a manageable disease and not a death sentence. Know your status. 

Know your HIV status and take control of your life.

Why should you get tested for HIV?

Once people recognise that being diagnosed HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence it makes it worthwhile to know their status, says Ross Beerman, MD of AllLife.

“There’s no incentive to find out you’re HIV-positive if you think there’s nothing you can do about it. But if you’re on a path that shows you that it is a chronic manageable disease, that’s a totally different reason to get tested. And if you do the right things you can live a very long time.”

When people have a terminal illness and think they’re going to die soon, they tend to withdraw from their community and their support group, he says. 

“They also tend to withdraw from the economy and not invest in any long-term projects while they wait to die. However, once they understand that they are not terminal but have a chronic manageable disease it changes their entire behaviour and allows them to participate in things that the rest of the population takes for granted.”

“When I’m sitting with dinner guests and they ask me about what we do, they are always surprised when I say: if you were a 35-year old man and contracted HIV today, you could expect to live for another 35 years.”

In an effort to turn the tide in the battle against HIV Former President Jacob Zuma launched an ambitious HIV counselling and testing (HCT) campaign during the early 2000s,that aimed to test 15-million people between May 2010 and June 2011. Reports indicate that the campaign was largely successful, with 14,7-million people being tested in just over a year.

Rodney Cowlin, MD of Aid for AIDS, says the key to the successful management of HIV/AIDS lies in the relationship between treatment support counsellors and the patient: “If the relationship is trusting and the patient is able to relate to the counselling experience and then understand the importance of treatment adherence, that’s half the battle won.”

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He says it is important for people living with HIV to realise that they may need to change from first-line therapy to second-line therapy, eventually leading to salvage therapy.

“There are now sophisticated methods of analysing which regimen of drugs will re-engage the virus aggressively. The costs of these tests used to be prohibitive, but negotiations with disease management organisations have made them far more affordable. While we have patients who have been on treatment for years who have not reached the stage of requiring salvage therapy, those patients who do need it can now access these tests and the sophisticated treatment needed to keep them on track in combating the disease.”

Cowlin says the fact that modern treatment methodologies, with new and highly effective drugs, have turned HIV into another chronic disease does not suggest awareness and prevention messages should be downscaled.

“On the contrary, the messages to South Africans must get smarter and need to be presented differently in order to reach the desired target market.”

There is a lot that business can do to help in getting this message across, says Beerman.

“They can highlight the fact that they are investing in people, regardless of their HIV status. They need to acknowledge that their people — whether or not they’re HIV positive — are going to be productive members of their business for decades to come.”

He says that conveying the right message also makes good business sense.

“In the case of our business, to be profitable we need our clients to live a long time. Changing their health and behaviour changes their risk and their life expectancy, which feeds nicely into a life insurance model.”

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