If you test positive for HIV you will go onto ART (which stands for Anti-Retroviral Treatment) the same day. It is not a cure for HIV but it will fight the HIV in your body and prevent it progressing to AIDS. It helps make your immune system stronger so that you can be healthier. It also helps your body fight and prevent illness such as pneumonia, TB and diarrhoea.
ART is a combination of three medical drugs called ARVs or anti-retrovirals. They are combined into one pill. Together they stop HIV from making copies of itself and destroying CD4 cells. This boosts the immune system and makes it possible for people with HIV to live long and full lives.
If you are on anti-retroviral treatment for HIV, viral load testing is done six months after you begin treatment, and again six months thereafter to check that the medication is working.
The South African National Department of Health is rolling out a new antiretroviral drug combination, made up of three ARV drugs called Tenofovir, Lamivudine and Dolutegravir (TLD).
TLD is the recommended treatment for all HIV-positive people, because it is highly effective at quickly reducing a patient’s viral load and thus strengthens the immune system sooner. As with all medication, TLD can cause some side-effects in some patients, but these can be managed by your clinician.
The benefits of TLD are especially important because people living with HIV who have an unsuppressed viral load are more likely to be infected with COVID-19 and to suffer more severe illness from the Coronavirus.
Please note that this new medication comes in eight different types of packaging, so don’t be surprised if your medication looks different each month. If you are unsure, you can look out for the active ingredient ‘Dolutegravir’ on the container, or contact the helpline for more information on:
Speak to your clinician as soon as you can about switching to TLD.
HIV-positive women who want to have a baby will be counselled about taking TLD.
ARTs only work if taken exactly as the healthcare professional prescribes. ART only suppresses (pushes down) our viral load if we take the right medication at the same time every day. That’s called Adherence.