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Living Positive


Are you living with HIV, or are you a friend, partner or family member of someone living with HIV? Growing your knowledge about HIV treatment and adherence can empower you and your loved one to live your best life!

Understanding how HIV affects the body is the first step to understanding how ARVs stop HIV from taking over. Once you know about ARVs you can read up on starting treatment: including what treatment regimens are available. Our section on adherence to treatment explains why it is important to take ARVs without skipping or stopping, gives practical tips to help take ARVs on time, all the time, and has information on side effects and how to manage them. Disclosing your HIV status to get support is also an important part of living positively and can have a great effect on sticking to treatment and staying healthy and strong. If you stay on treatment you can also start a family. Find out more about HIV treatment and pregnancy, and read about stigma, discrimination and the rights of people living with HIV.

Antiretrovirals (ARVs) reduce the amount of HIV in the body, which results inviral load suppression.

This means there is only a low amount of HIV in the body and your immune system gets a chance to recover.

If you are virally suppressed you can enjoy a healthy and productive life. You also have less chance of passing HIV on to your partner.

Start taking treatment and begin your journey to viral suppression TODAY!

Reaching viral load suppression means:

  • HIV is not harming the body, which means you can live a healthy and productive life.
  • There is less risk of developing drug resistance and having to switch to new second-line HIV treatment, which can have more side-effects.
  • There is less chance of passing the virus on to a sexual partner.
  • There is an opportunity for you to have HIV-negative children without passing HIV on to your partner.

Adherence, which means taking your ARVs exactly as prescribed by thehealthcareworker, is very important in achieving viral load suppression.

For ART to be effective it needs 100% adherence. This means:

  • Not taking breaks from taking ARVs.
  • Never skipping a dose.
  • Taking ARVs at the same time every day. Not doing so is as bad as skipping a dose.
  • Avoid taking other medication that might interfere with ARVs.


The immune system is the body's defense force. It protects the body against infection and disease. HIV is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system. When the immune system is weakened, the body can't fight infections and diseases, such as TB.

HIV weakens the immune system by hijacking the immune system's CD4 cells. HIV turns these cells into factories to make more copies of HIV. In the process of making more HIV, the CD4 cells are destroyed. This means that as more and more HIV is made, more and more CD4 cells are destroyed. This is why when someone has HIV, and they are not taking ARVS, the amount of HIV in their blood and body goes up (their viral load) as their CD4 count drops.


How ARVs Suppress HIV

The drugs that suppress or control HIV are called antiretrovirals or ARVs for short. ARVs work by stopping HIV from hijacking the body's CD4 cells to make more HIV. ARVs do two things:

They stop HIV from making more copies of itself
They stop HIV from destroying CD4 cells (the immune system)

This is why when ARVs are taken properly, the viral load goes down, which means there is less HIV in the blood and body. And, at the same time, the CD4 count goes up and the immune system recovers and becomes strong again.

There are many different kinds of ARVs. To suppress HIV properly and stop it from multiplying, three different ARVs must be taken together.



When should someone start Antiretroviral Treatment (ART)?

Starting ART sooner, and not waiting to be sick or have symptoms, is better. South Africa has a Universal Test and Treat (UTT) Policy, which means that anyone who tests positive for HIV can start taking ART immediately, no matter what their CD4 count is.

It is important not to skip or stop taking ARVs. Skipping or stopping can lead to drug resistance. Once someone starts taking ARVs, they must take them every day at the same time. It is a lifelong commitment.

If a person is not sure whether they can stick to taking their ARVs, then it may be better to wait until they feel they are prepared and can stick to treatment. A person living with HIV can find out what their regimen will be. Use sweets in a practice run to get used to the routine. Find a family member or friend who can be a treatment buddy to provide support.

If viral load is high - more than 1000 - and their CD4 count is low -200 or less - it is important to start treatment as soon as possible.

Don't wait until your CD4 count is very low!



If you are living with HIV, one of the biggest lifestyle changes is starting ART and taking treatment for the rest of your life. If you want to stay strong and live a healthy life, you can never stop your treatment. Your body might take some time to adjust to the side-effects of the ARVs, and you will need to remember to always collect your pills in time, so you don't run out, and you have them with you when you need them so you can take your treatment at the same time every day.

What Adherence to ART means

Adherence to Antiretroviral therapy (ART), or taking ARVs exactly as the healthcare worker advises, leads to viral load suppression. This is when ARVs have reduced the amount of HIV in the body so much that it is suppressed and the immune system gets a chance to recover. At this stage, there is so little HIV in the blood that there is less chance of passing it on. Someone living with HIV will also be able to have HIV-negative children by following the correct procedures. Although taking ARVs may be feel like a burden, stick to the treatment. When HIV is suppressed a long, happy, healthy and productive life is achievable.

For ART to be effective it needs to be taken as prescribed by a healthcare worker.



When a person finds out that they are HIV-positive it can be a very shocking experience. They may feel too ashamed, guilty or upset to tell anybody. They may be afraid of being rejected. They may not want people in their inner circle or community to know because they fear discrimination. To hide their HIV status, they could stop going to the clinic to get their treatment. While disclosure can be scary, disclosing to a trusted person, as early as possible, can be rewarding because of the benefits of love, acceptance and support.

The benefits of disclosing

It is a person's right and choice to decide whether they want to disclose their HIV status or not. It is not something that has to be rushed into but there are many benefits to disclosure. Disclosure is an important step in a person's acceptance of their status. Keeping it a secret makes it easier to pretend that it is not real and delay getting treatment.