For now HIV has no cure. Even Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), the Lazarus or miracle pills, can only prolong our lives and not stop HIV or cure Aids. But ARTs remain our lifeblood and revives thousands of patients to fight back against HIV. The drugs reverse the rapid progression of the virus in our bodies.
Even then, about 1.5 million Ugandans still live with HIV with about 793,928 enrolled on ART, but only 570,373 take the treatment. This means only 38 per cent of Ugandans who need the treatment take it.
As Joint Clinical Research Centre Pharmacist Dr Baker Lwasampijja says, we can’t kill the virus, so the best thing that can be done is to stop it multiplying. This means Ugandans should cling to ART treatment regimens. Often people who fail to adhere to their pill-taking timetables develop resistances to their regimen.
This is why people who live positively with the virus can do every day work and live longer. But let us remember even with ARVs, there is no cure to the virus and ARVs will only work for a certain time, and sometimes resistance cannot be avoided.
So for now, Ugandans should remember when one contracts HIV, the virus stays in us for the rest of our lives.
As head of Mulago hospital Infectious Diseases Institute Outreach Department, Dr Alex Muganzi, advises, patients on treatments must go on for the rest of their lives. And people on second line of treatment should adhere to their treatment regimens.
While ARTs has bettered lives, it has also produced unintended consequences. First, it has increased the number of years people live with the virus.
Second, many people now believe ARTs are the answer to HIV and are encouraged to live reckless lives.
Before ARVs, the signs of the disease were visible and people avoided sexual intimacy with those with the signs of the disease. As Dr Muganzi says, Ugandans no longer look at HIV as the dangerous disease that made one lose weight, come down with chronic diarrhoea, got Tuberculosis, and meningitis.
Now people look at HIV drugs as normal medicines that bring people back to life. But let us remember the virus still kills, though preventable.
More importantly, let us help 190,000 children in Uganda on ARVs not get scared. Agencies working with them should gently break it to them and explain why they should take ARVs and live a full life as everyone else. Children should know ARVs offer them the opportunity to live healthy and full lives.
Let us improve education on HIV in communities and teach coping mechanisms, including adherence calendar, positive living and peer support clubs.
People with HIV should live full and optimistic lives.