The benefits of HIV treatment

CREATED ON // Wednesday, 14 August 2013 Written by // Lance Feeney

HIV treatment in 1995 meant taking lots of pills up to three times a day – some needing refrigeration as well as some serious side-effects, like voluminous qualities of unexpected explosive diarrhoea and body-shape changes. It was a real pain, but how times have changed.

Now it’s a few pills daily with fewer side-effects which are managed. We also know much more about the benefit of the HIV meds – like the other health benefits and the benefit conferred by reducing HIV transmission to others. But it’s the health benefit that I want to focus on here.

Back in late 2012, I read an article by colleague Neil McKellar-Stewart in HIV Living. It was such a good article! Neil looked at the health benefits of HIV treatment. He painstakingly tracked down the evidence – a considerable undertaking and I encourage you to read the article on the NAPWHA website (

Neil showed how HIV treatment provides a number of important benefits. Firstly, it extends life. As Neil states: “The message is clear. HIV treatment reduces your risk of dying”.

It also allows people with HIV who are on treatment to live a near normal life span. A Netherlands study indicated that the life expectancy of people with HIV who receive effective HIV treatment is now approaching that of the general community. The US HIV treatment Guidelines now recommend treatment for all adults with HIV, regardless of CD4 count. The USA Panel of the International Antiretroviral Society wrote in 2012: “When HIV is allowed to replicate uninhibited by ART (antiretroviral therapy), resultant immune activation and inflammation are associated not only with immune destruction and opportunistic infections, but also with increased rates of cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, and neurological diseases; malignancies; and other serious non-AIDS diseases.” So in other words, HIV treatment not only stops disease progression to AIDS and death, it also reduces the risk of developing other serious chronic health conditions.

Neil also goes on to point out that, ‘’Starting treatment improves your quality of life – both physically and mentally. Positive changes to people’s physical health starts as early as one month after commencing ART, and changes to mental health after about four months”.

“There is some good evidence to suggest that treatment reduces depression and fatigue – which makes sense as depression is increasingly recognised as a disease associated with inflammation,” he continued.

The ability of HIV treatment to inhibit HIV viral replication and prevent immune system destruction is unequivocal. There is, however, much to be said on the benefits of treatment for improving cardiovascular, brain, kidney and bone health, and also for reducing the risk of cancer. If you’re HIV-positive and not taking treatment, talk with your doctor about which treatment combination might be right for you. You’ll never look back.


Lance Feeney

Lance Feeney

Lance Feeney is the Policy Analyst for Positive Life NSW and has worked in the HIV community sector since 2001 in various capacities.

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