Over the past 30+ years the state of HIV treatment has changed dramatically. At the beginning of the AIDS crisis, people living with HIV did not have access to effective HIV treatment options. Eventually, effective HIV treatment options were discovered but the regimens were often burdensome and came with a series of severe and unwanted side effects. Now, however, we have access to more treatment options than ever before, most of which come with little to no noticeable side effects for those who take them.

For most people living with HIV in Alberta, HIV treatment (known as antiretroviral therapy or ART) is free. Once someone is diagnosed with HIV, they are referred to an appropriate healthcare provider who will help them assess which treatment option is best for them. Fortunately, most people who are newly diagnosed with HIV in Alberta can access a treatment option that only requires taking one pill per day.

It is important to remember that HIV treatment does not cure people of HIV. However, it does essentially halt the progression of the virus while also helping to maintain an individual’s immune system. Recent studies have shown that newly diagnosed individuals in Canada who begin HIV treatment early can expect to experience life expectancies of 70+ years, with those who lead particularly healthy lives experiencing life expectancies essentially on par with those of HIV-negative Canadians.

[Additionally, as discussed in our “Prevention” section, those who adhere to HIV treatment and attain an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV onto their partners. Read more about that here!]

Regardless of these advances, there are still a few considerations to make if you are taking HIV medication:

Firstly, HIV medication is only effective if taken as prescribed. By taking HIV medication less frequently or taking breaks in treatment the medication will not be as effective. This could lead to an increase in your viral load (the amount of HIV in your system), meaning that it is more likely that HIV can be passed on to someone else.

Additionally, in some situations, not taking HIV treatment daily as prescribed can lead to treatment resistance. This means that the HIV in your system can become resistant to the medication you are taking, meaning you would need to find a new treatment option. The more this happens, the more challenging it can be to find an HIV treatment that works effectively for you.

Finally, while taking HIV medication, it is important to be regularly monitored by an appropriate healthcare provider. This will ensure that the medication is working as anticipated, that you are not experiencing any unwanted side effects, and that any new medications you begin taking do not interact adversely with your HIV medication.

For more information about HIV treatment and how it works, visit CATIE or speak with a healthcare provider experienced in HIV care.