Care for Women Living with HIV
With effective treatment, HIV is a chronic and manageable disease. Having access to thoughtful, wholistic, and person-centred care and support is a critical part of this success.
How is HIV Treated?
Antiretroviral drugs (also referred to as "HIV medications") work to stop HIV from replicating, allowing the immune system to retain (or rebuild) its strength and keep people healthy. Research shows that HIV medication, when taken as prescribed, works well for women. The recommendations for HIV treatment are the same for people of all genders.
Treating HIV with antiretroviral drugs has proven to save lives and keep people healthy. But medications are only one part of the process. Wholistic care, support, community connection, safety, economic autonomy, and overall well-being are also important to successful HIV treatment. With current HIV treatment, and thoughtful wholistic care, women living with HIV can expect to have the same life expectancy as HIV-negative women. Advancements in treatment have made the HIV drugs much easier to take; however, some HIV drugs may cause side-effects. Certain older HIV medications, not commonly used anymore, may interact with hormone treatment among trans women.
Making the Choice to Start Treatment
In order for HIV treatment to be successful it is best if it is taken each day around the same time. For some women, this is a significant commitment. Evidence is also accumulating about the health benefits of starting treatment right away.
Balancing treatment with other responsibilities can be difficult, and particularly so for women who are living in poverty, taking care of family, dealing with mental health or immigration issues, are homeless, are dealing with violence, and/or using substances. Similarly, women who may be hiding their HIV status due to stigma and discrimination may have a hard time taking treatment regularly.
While starting treatment as soon as possible is always recommended, it is important to have social and community supports as well. Treatment is more effective with health and social supports integrated together.
CENTRING WOMEN'S EXPERIENCES
"A person who is living with HIV is a person like anyone else, and has the right to share love, the right to love, to be loved, to be sexual with someone"
An introductory toolkit for the HIV and social determinants of health for women in Ontario.