Hesperian Health Guides

Care for Persons with HIV or AIDS

The health and medical problems of HIV and AIDS may last a long time. These problems can take a lot of the energy and resources of the sick person and her or his family.

If you are sick with AIDS, you will probably need to see a health worker or go to a clinic regularly to have an infection treated or to get medicines for HIV. But you may never need to stay in the hospital. You may be more comfortable at home, cared for by family members in familiar surroundings.

Try to find a health worker, clinic, or doctor you trust who is experienced with HIV. Then go to the same person or clinic whenever you have a problem or have a problem that does not get better with home treatment. Going to a clinic where you are known saves time, energy, and money and can help keep you out of the hospital.

a sick young woman lying in bed while an older woman comforts her
Much of the work in caring for sick people at home is done by women, who are usually the family’s caregivers.

In many communities, HIV programs send community health workers to people’s homes to help families care for those with HIV.

If you are caring for someone with AIDS, be sure to take care of your own needs, too. Try to get help from other family members, friends and people in the community.

Community clubs, religious groups, youth clubs, and AIDS self-help groups may assist you. Community support like this can allow girls to stay in school.

a woman sitting at a younger woman's bedside, holding her hand

When Rosa was in bed because of AIDS complications, her mother kept a cheerful attitude. Every day she bathed her daughter, dressed her with nice clothes, and put a little flower next to her bed. Rosa was not hungry but her mother arranged the food in a way that could make her want to eat. The family would talk to Rosa about daily life, and their work and community. With their good humor and positive comments, Rosa felt that she was not cast aside. Even though Rosa was often tired or didn’t feel well, the family arranged for her friends to visit her in the moments she felt better. Music, conversation, and good spirit kept the house full of life. Rosa felt that she was loved and needed, and that AIDS could not ruin her closeness and her time with her family.

Preventing infections in the home

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With a few simple precautions, there is almost no risk of spreading HIV from an infected person to others around her. In fact, the risk of getting infections like diarrhea is greater for the person with HIV than getting HIV is for the caregiver. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after giving all care.

Comfort and kindness are as important as cleanliness in caring for a person with HIV or AIDS.

  • Use clean water to wash dishes and food before eating or cooking.
  • Keep bedding and clothing clean. This helps keep sick people comfortable and helps prevent skin problems. To clean clothing or sheets stained with blood, diarrhea, or other body fluids:
    • keep them separate from other household laundry.
    • a woman using a pitcher to rinse a stained sheet in a washtub
    • hold an unstained part and rinse off any body fluids with water.
    • wash the bedding and clothing in soapy water and hang to dry—in the sun if possible.
    • you can also add bleach to the soapy water and soak 10 minutes before washing, and if you have them, wear gloves or plastic bags on your hands.
  • Good home care includes trying to make sure that the person with AIDS has enough nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink.

  • Avoid touching bloody body fluids with bare hands. Use a piece of plastic or paper, gloves, or a big leaf to handle dirty bandages, cloths, blood, vomit, or stool.
  • Do not share anything that touches blood. This includes razors, needles, any sharp instruments that cut the skin, and toothbrushes. If you must share such things, disinfect them before another person uses them.
  • Keep wounds covered, on caregivers and on persons with HIV or AIDS. Burn or bury soiled bandages that cannot be rewashed.

This page was updated:01 Feb 2021