HIV specialist urges patients to take medication regularly

A specialist has warned human immunodeficiency virus or HIV patients to do their anti-retroviral therapy regularly or run the risk of developing resistance to the treatment.

Dr. Edsel Salvaña, director at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, National Institutes of Health of the University of the Philippines Manila, noted that like bacteria, the human immunodeficiency virus becomes resistant to drugs.

Spelling out what occurs when an HIV patient fails to take his/her medication regularly, Salvaña said once a patient develops resistance to one ART, his/her doctor will have to try another set of ART. Since there are only about seven ARTs available in the country — provided by the Department of Health — a patient will eventually run out of treatment that could work for him/her, he said.

ART, the combination of several anti-retroviral medicines that slow down the multiplication of HIV in the body, is not a direct cure for HIV. It, however, controls a patient’s viral load from increasing, and instead brings that load down so the patient’s immune system could be strengthened. When this happens, a patient could be protected from opportunistic infections that could weaken his/her system. That protection is the reason why the patient does not develop full-blown AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome) in a span of 10 years. Once taken, ART should be taken for life.

ART actually eroded the scenario 30 years ago when AIDS was first pictured out and understood in the country, Salvaña said.

Back then, people who acquired the virus had to prepare themselves to face the reality of dying.

“But now, 30 years after, here is a treatment through ARTs wherein once you start treatment you are alive (provided the patient regularly takes his/her medication). Who knows? Years after, a cure might really come,” he said, reiterating that to get the full benefit of ARTs, patients should never disregard the regular taking of their medication.

Meanwhile, as an intervention, Johnson and Johnson (Philippines) recently partnered with the Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines, a nongovernmental organization, in coming up with a system to track down HIV patients taking ARTs at the Philippine General Hospital.

Under the partnership, the health providers, through the SHIP, will operate a system that would find out how compliant the patients are in taking their medication, educate them, and aid them in the management of their HIV for better outcomes.

Under the system, called “Connect for Life” and launched Nov. 29, patients have a virtual assistant that calls them to remind them that it is time to take their medicine; responds if there is a problem; knows how compliant the patients are; and motivates them to practice a healthy lifestyle.*PNA