New ways to manage HIV

AT the recent 7th International AIDS Society Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, researchers and scientists from all over the world met to discuss the latest developments and advancements made in treating those who are infected with HIV.

"HIV no longer means certain death. When treated, people living with HIV can expect to live to a ripe old age," said Prof Andrew Carr, the director of HIV, Immunology & Infectious Diseases Unit, St Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia who made a presentation at the conference.

"It's because of this prognosis as well as the changing nature of the virus itself, that the way we manage patients has to change. In the early days of treatment there was no monitoring at all. Today, we know a lot more about the virus which has required diagnostic tools to become more sophisticated, not so much for the diagnosis, but for the ongoing monitoring and patient management."

HIV multiples quickly in the body and often changes form during this process, especially for patients on antiviral treatment. In order to gauge the success of this treatment, it is important for the patient to be monitored regularly, ideally twice a year, with a viral load test.

This can help the doctor determine the amount of virus in the blood and take necessarily measures in terms of the patient's treatments.

According to Dr Christopher KC Lee, head and senior consultant physician (Infectious Disease) Department of Medicine, Hospital Sungai Buloh, as of December 2012, about 98,279 patients have been diagnosed (since it was first detected in 1986) with HIV and this year, it is estimated that they will cross the 100,000 mark.

"Gradually, over the last few years, the number of new cases has decreased. Hopefully, the infections will be fewer and fewer," said Lee who is unable to confirm how many cases have gone undiagnosed in Malaysia.

As Lee puts it, there are still people dying of AIDS in this country and he has seen many cases in which the patient is aware he is infected with HIV but has taken years to build up courage to seek a doctor's help because of fear of telling their spouse (which is required by the Health Ministry) and also fear of the social stigma that they will face.

Lee said that you can get your blood tested for HIV at any government hospital, University Hospitals or certain government-run clinics. Do not go to the blood bank as some have done, believing that it will be discreet. If you have the virus, early treatment helps.

At the beginning of the epidemic, most of the victims were injecting drug users. While they still make up a large portion of HIV victims today, they only make up 38.7% of new infections. The number of women getting infected has increased making up for 21% of newly infected persons.

Lee said when a woman gets infected, it is complicated. If they are pregnant, they risk transmitting the disease to their baby. However if detected early, there are treatments available to help ensure the baby is not infected by the virus.

Lee said in Malaysia the treatments or AIDs is easily available and the government has subsidised the medication.

For more information on HIV and treatments available, go to www.unicef.org.malaysia/aids-overview.html or www.who.int/hiv/abouthiv/en/