Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 11: ART: Medicines for HIV

HealthWiki > Helping Children Live with HIV > Chapter 11: ART: Medicines for HIV

With ART treatment, healthy food, and other health care, children with HIV can grow well, become adults, work, live a full life, and even have children of their own. Children with HIV who take ART are less ill, feel better, and grow and develop better, avoiding the disabilities HIV can cause. They can do all the things children usually do.

a woman thinking while 2 children play.
That tickles!
She was so weak before, and never spoke — now listen to her!

What is ART?

ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) combines several medicines called antiretrovirals. Antiretrovirals work in different ways against HIV, and combining them makes ART work well to stop HIV from making us ill.

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With too much HIV, we cannot fight illness or grow. ART helps us be healthy by keeping our HIV low, as long as we take it every day.

Taken every day, ART keeps the amount of HIV in a person’s body low. With a small amount of HIV, a person’s immune system is not so weak and HIV cannot harm the body as much. A person on ART can fight all infections better, including HIV infection.

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However, ART cannot cure HIV completely. To keep HIV under control, a person with HIV must take ART every day.

HIV infection is like a bad pest problem in a plant. When there are too many pests, the plant is unhealthy and cannot grow. If you can keep most of the pests away or get rid of them, your plant will be strong and healthy, and can grow big and tall.

Just as a plant needs water, sun, and good soil to thrive, children with HIV need ART, healthy food, clean water, regular health care, and lots of love to avoid illness and grow well. For more about these and other ways to keep young children healthy—with and without HIV—see Chapter 10.

Is ART available in your community?

Because ART helps people with HIV live longer and healthier lives, and ART is less costly than it once was, it is now available in many communities. But sometimes people with HIV can only get ART by traveling several hours, or it is not easily accessible for other reasons. Difficulties getting medicine cause people to miss doses. When that happens, people are tempted to share medicines. Missing doses and sharing medicines are dangerous because for ART to work, the correct dose needs to be taken every day. Drugs and doses are often different for different people.

Talk with your health worker about how and where to get medicine. If you have difficulties getting to the clinic, or must pay for transport to get ART, you can ask the clinic for support. After all, what good are services if people cannot access them?

Governments and health programs can help people get the medicines they need at a reasonable cost. Find ideas on how to work in your community to make ART more available in Making ART work in our communities and in Chapter 15.

WARNING! Do not buy ART in a shop or from someone outside a medical setting. ART must be given to you in the right amounts and the right kind for your child. Sometimes criminals or people who do not know any better sell fake (counterfeit) pills that look like ART but do not work at all.

a group of health care workers talking.
It is not enough for ART to be free. We must find a way to help people travel more easily to the clinic.
Or perhaps take ART to them.
Mrs. Otieno asked if one member of her mothers’ group could pick up medicine for all of them each month.

When should babies and children start ART?

Any baby or child who has HIV should start to take ART as soon as possible. Starting ART while young children are still healthy keeps them alive, and protects their growing minds and bodies during their important first years of life, when they learn and develop more than at any other time.

If you do not know your child’s HIV status and you suspect or wonder if he might have HIV, have your child tested. Health workers will test a child for HIV before they start giving ART. See Chapter 8.

Do not wait until your child is ill to start ART

You might think it is OK to wait and see. Adults with HIV may be infected many years without showing signs of illness. They may start taking ART only when they become ill, and recover their health then. But waiting until your child is ill is much more dangerous. HIV weakens a child’s body and immune system faster and more seriously than an adult’s, so his illnesses will be harder to treat and can quickly become deadly. Without treatment, more than half of children born with HIV die before age 3. But with treatment, they live.

If you have concerns about giving your child ART, ask other caregivers who give ART to their children how they manage it and how it has helped their children.

a group of people talking.
They said my boy should start taking medicine right away — not because he is sick, but to prevent sickness. They say he has to take it every day, without fail.
My child and I both take ART every day. It was very difficult at first, but I can tell you what made it easier.
It was telling others in my family. Then they helped me remember.

Note: Some babies take antiretrovirals for a few weeks after birth or while they are breastfeeding. This is a different use of HIV medicines to prevent HIV spreading from mothers to babies. For more information, see ART for babies to prevent HIV.

This page was updated:23 Jan 2020