13 September 2007

Pillbox boosts HIV care

HIV-positive patients who use pillbox organisers to help keep track of their medications can reduce their risk of progressing to Aids, a new study suggests.

HIV-positive patients who use pillbox organisers to help keep track of their medications can reduce their risk of progressing to Aids, a new study suggests.

"Pillbox organisers should be a standard intervention to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy," Dr David R. Bangsberg of San Francisco General Hospital and colleagues conclude in their report, which is published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

People with HIV infection who don't fully adhere to prescribed regimens run a greater risk of developing drug resistance, progressing to Aids and dying, Bangsberg and his team points out.

Pillbox organisers are the cheapest and most commonly used strategy to help people adhere to drug therapy, they add, but no studies have been done on whether these devices can help people with HIV to take their medications as prescribed.

How the study was conducted
To investigate, the researchers followed 245 HIV-infected men and women from 1996 through 2000, periodically checking their adherence to their antiretroviral regimens by conducting unannounced pill counts every three to six weeks. All study participants were taking at least three different medications.

Because it would have been unethical to randomly assign some patients to use a pill organiser but not others, the researchers used statistical techniques to compare adherence for individuals who chose to use pillbox organisers and those who did not. Sixty-one percent of the study participants used the organisers for at least one month during the course of the study.

Based on three different statistical models, the researchers found that pillbox users increased their adherence to prescribed drug regimens by up to 4.5 percent. They also had significantly lower levels of HIV in their blood and were nearly twice as likely to have a viral load of 400 copies per millilitre or less. Pillbox users were also 11 percent less likely than non-users to progress to Aids during the course of the study.

Antiretroviral regimens for HIV infection are simpler now than when the study was conducted, the researchers note, so it is unclear whether pillbox organizers would be equally helpful for patients today. Nevertheless, they add, "given the simplicity and low cost of the intervention, clinicians should consider including pillbox organisers in their routine treatment of chronic disease."

SOURCE: Clinical Infectious Diseases, October 1, 2007. – (Reuters Health)

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HIV/Aids Centre

September 2007


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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