Living with HIV: ARV Adherence Tips 

When you are living with HIV, it is important to ensure ARV adherence. ARV adherence is ensuring that you stick to your ARV treatment programme and take your medication at the exact time you are instructed to by your health care worker. Cindy Pivacic shares more ARV adherence tips in this article.

ARV adherence

Missing your ARV dose occasionally may not lead to problems, however, missing regular doses can lead to:

  • An increase in your viral load (VL)
  • A drop in your CD4 cell count
  • A higher risk of drug resistance

Ensuring ARV adherence

The best results of ARV treatment are evident in people who regularly consume all the doses of their drugs at the scheduled time and in the right way. Missing doses of ARV treatment can decrease their effectiveness and make certain drugs lose their efficacy. If you realize you have missed a dose, take the medication as soon as possible, and take the next dosage at your scheduled time. Despite your good intentions, you may find it difficult sustaining your daily medication regimen, whether it is one pill or more. An estimated fifty percent of people neglect to take their medication as prescribed. ARV adherence is crucial to continuing your healthy status.

Connect taking your medication with a daily action

Make a habit of taking your HIV treatment when incorporating it with another task. This task could be brushing your teeth, breakfast, dinner or bedtime. 

Use a pill box 

Many people find pillboxes useful as they have various options to suit your daily dose requirements. Fill your box weekly or have four boxes, as I do and make this a monthly routine. Pill boxes are available at pharmacies and some cheaper franchise stores. Check with your health provider whether your medication can be stored in a pill box, as there are sachets in some bottles to keep the pills dry. If you do not have a pill box, flip your bottle upside down after you take your medication, and then turn it upright as a reminder to start fresh tomorrow.

Set a reminder on your phone 

I set an alarm on my mobile phone to remind me to take my medication on time. My alarm buzzes at 19h00 and a second time at 19h10, just in case I am busy with something and get distracted from taking my medication. There are some phone apps available that will send you a reminder. If you live with someone who knows about your HIV status, you could ask them to help you remember to take your medication.

Have spare doses available

Keep spare doses of your pills in a container in a convenient place. Include some in your bag, jacket pocket, at work or college, or in your car. I have a pillbox on my car /house keyring as it is always with me. Make sure that your medication is out of reach of children. Keep in mind that your medication can go out of date. I swap out my spare doses for new doses every six to eight weeks.

Be travel ready 

Going away for a holiday or a work trip may affect your ARV adherence. The change to your routine could mean that you’re away from prompts that usually help you remember to take your medication. If you’re planning to travel, ensure your ARV adherence, by: 

  • Adding an extra reminder to your daily life: Even if you don’t usually need phone reminders or pill boxes to help you keep track, you might find them helpful when you travel.
  • Adjusting for time zones: If you’re travelling to a different time zone you should try and make sure that you take your medication at the same intervals as you normally do. Your clinic staff can give you advice on how to do this.
  • Ensuring you have enough medication: Make sure that you take enough medication with you. Getting more medication might be difficult or even impossible in other countries. Take a few extra doses in case you’re delayed.
  • Keep your medication with you: Carry some or all of your medication in your hand luggage, as this is less likely to get lost.
  • Take a copy of your prescriptions: If you’re travelling to another country, take a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor explaining that your medication is for a chronic medical condition.
  • Keep your original containers: Keep your medications in their original container with the pharmacy label attached. 
  • Plan ahead: If you’re travelling with people who don’t know about your health, plan in advance how you might manage this. For example, having a bottle of water by your bed could give you more privacy to take your medication.
  • Learn more about your destination: Some countries have entry restrictions for people with HIV. 

Talk to your doctor 

Even when strategies are in place, they may not always work, and missed doses can still happen. It has happened to me on roughly five occasions over a period of fourteen years, and I am still here. If missed doses happen regularly, it is advised that you have a conversation with your health provider to explore alternative options to adhere to your medication. If you have questions or concerns about your treatment, ask your doctor or someone in your clinic or health practitioner. They will be open to talk to you about it.

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