To stay healthy, people with HIV need to take antiretroviral drugs every day for the rest of their lives. In theory, this treatment is free for everyone, everywhere – but the reality is that there are all kinds of hidden costs. As a result, many people struggle to stay on treatment – despite knowing that the price of stopping treatment is death.
If you live in a remote area, travelling to the clinic for treatment can be time-consuming and expensive, eating into the hours you need to earn your living, and the money you need to support your family. Or if your work requires you to travel, you may be forced
to interrupt your treatment.
At the clinic, you may have to pay to consult a doctor, pay for laboratory tests, and pay for medicines to treat infections. Only then can you access the antiretroviral drugs you need to stay alive. Many people just don’t have the money to reach that stage.
Fewer clinic visits
One way of helping people to stay on treatment is to ensure that all aspects of it are free of charge. Another is to limit the number of times they need to visit a clinic. Patients can receive longer-lasting rations of antiretroviral drugs to take home with them, and can collect drug refills for others.
In Mozambique, MSF has set up patient groups whose members take turns to collect the group’s drugs from the clinic, and who come together to share their problems and concerns. Similarly, in Democratic Republic of Congo, patients can collect their drugs in their own community through a patient association, without having to visit a clinic. Those involved say that managing aspects of their own care makes them feel empowered, and outcomes show that it helps them stick to their treatment.
End the struggle
Staying on HIV treatment shouldn’t be a struggle. Treatment needs to become simpler to access and be completely free of charge, with no hidden costs. We need to explore new ways of making lifelong treatment easier for all those living with HIV.