South Africans are living longer, with life expectancy
increasing from 56 years in 2009 to 60 years in 2011.
So said President Jacob Zuma in his 2013 State of the Nation
Address. A big factor in the dramatic increase in national life expectancy is
more effective management of HIV.
However, the President went on to warn that we cannot become
complacent in the HIV battle. A critical weapon in effective HIV treatment is
“Even if you feel healthy and have no opportunistic
infections, if you are HIV positive, it is best to seek treatment and consult
regularly with healthcare professionals who will help you maintain your state
of wellness,” says Siraaj Adams, a pharmacist and Senior Manager for the HIV
YourLife programme from Metropolitan Health.
Early management of HIV makes such a difference to health
outcomes that Metropolitan Health has created to a confidential web tool to
streamline the process for doctors enrolling patients on HIV programmes.
Patients wait until
Adams explains that far too many individuals put off
enrolling on HIV management programmes until they become seriously illness. By
that stage, their CD4 count has dropped and their chances of responding well to
antiretroviral treatment has decreased.
Adams says, “Even if the person does not require
antiretroviral medication in the early stages, enrolment at the
point-of-diagnosis offers the individual immediate access to the benefits of
the programme, and CD4 count and viral load can be carefully monitored.”
A CD4 count test checks your number of CD4 cells. CD4 cells
are the body’s fighter cells against infecting viruses or bacteria. The more
CD4 cells you have to fight infection, the stronger your immune system. Viral
load is another important test that checks the amount of virus in your body,
and whether it is increasing or decreasing.
If you put off joining the programme until you start getting
sick, your CD4 count will have decreased by the time you join and your chances
of responding well to treatment will also have reduced. The best time to join
an HIV management programme is as soon as you know you are HIV positive.
The role of a health
The healthcare practitioner who delivers the HIV diagnoses
has a critical role to play in educating the patient on the benefits of early
enrolment and encouraging them to join an HIV management programme.
To streamline this process, Metropolitan Health developed a
completely secure, confidential web tool that makes it quick and easy for
doctors to enrol their patients on HIV management programmes as soon as they
are diagnosed HIV positive. However, patient consent has to be provided before
the process commences.
Results so far are most encouraging. According to Adams, “As
a result of the web tool, the number of people joining the HIV management
programme following their diagnosis has jumped from less than 30% to 80%.
Baseline CD4 readings of those joining have also increased.”
However, before anyone can manage their HIV, they need to
“test” to know their status. Unfortunately stigma and fear of discrimination
remain strong deterrents for testing, particularly in the workplace. Adams explains, “Whether you participate in
HIV testing through a workplace-based programme, at a clinic or at your
doctor’s rooms, the results will remain confidential.
Joining an HIV
Should you join an HIV management programme funded by your
medical scheme or employer, interaction between you and the independent
healthcare professionals who run the programme is completely confidential.
Information on your status and anything you share will never
be passed on to your employer, colleagues, family members or anyone else
without your consent.”
Modern treatment for HIV and Aids means that living with HIV
is the same as living with any other chronic disease such as diabetes or high
When HIV is closely managed, regularly checked and receives
the right treatment, HIV-positive people live long, healthy, productive
lives. Adams encourages anyone who is
HIV positive to join the relevant HIV management programme as soon as possible,
and not to wait until they become ill.
(Press release, Metropolitan Health, February 2013)