Hesperian Health Guides

Living Positively with HIV Infection

No one—neither modern medicine nor traditional healers— has a cure for HIV. But with treatment most people with HIV can be healthy for many years. During this time it can help to:

  • make the best of every moment of your life.
  • spend time with friends and family.
  • try to keep active by doing your daily work.
  • be sexual if you want to. Enjoying safe sex can help you stay healthier longer.
  • use protection (condoms) when you have sexual intercourse. This will protect you as well as your partner.
a couple holding hands and smiling at each other

If your partner is HIV infected
By practicing safer sex carefully, the infected person can avoid passing HIV to his or her partner. Condoms are the best way to prevent HIV. Cover open skin wounds and get treated promptly for STIs. And remember, there are other ways to be sexual besides sexual intercourse.

a group of women sitting and talking together
  • try joining or starting a group of people with HIV. Some people with HIV and AIDS work together to educate the community, to provide home care to those who are sick with AIDS, and to support the rights of people with HIV.
  • look after your spiritual and mental health. Your faith and traditions can bring you hope and strength.
  • think about the future. If you have children:
– spend time with them now, and give them care and guidance.
– make arrangements for family members to look after them when you are no longer able to do so.
– make a will. If you have some money, a house, or property, try to make sure that they will go to those you want to have them. Sometimes women who are not legally married cannot leave their possessions to their children and other family members. So it may be helpful to get legally married in order to leave your possessions to those you choose.

Take care of your health

More Information

If you have children, make staying healthy for them a goal.

  • Look for an HIV care and treatment program as soon as you test positive for HIV.
  • Take care of medical problems early. See a health worker regularly. When you get sick, make sure to get the treatment you need. Each infection can weaken your immune system more. Get tested for TB and take cotrimoxazole to prevent other infections.
  • Eat nutritious food to keep your body strong. The same foods that are good to eat when you are healthy are good for you when you are sick. Buy nutritious food instead of spending money on vitamin injections.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
  • Practice safer sex for your own health and your partner’s.
  • Try to get enough rest and exercise. This will help your body stay strong to fight infection.
  • Prevent infection by washing often and by using clean water for drinking and preparing food (see medicine to prevent infections in people with HIV).

Medicines that treat HIV and AIDS

In some places, ART is called HAART or Triple Therapy. It is all the same thing.

There is still no cure for HIV, but antiretroviral medicines can help people with HIV live longer and have fewer health problems. Anti means against, and the virus that causes HIV is called a retrovirus. If used correctly, antiretrovirals (called ARVs) fight against and control the HIV infection. The immune system becomes stronger and the person with HIV is able to fight off infections and become healthy. But HIV is not cured. Small amounts of the virus always remain hidden in the body.

Taking antiretroviral medicines is known as Anti Retroviral Therapy, or ART. ART is becoming cheaper and more available in many countries. Government health facilities and other programs may offer ART at low or no cost.

ART works when used correctly

ART can help most people with HIV stay healthy for many years.

ART means taking 3 or 4 antiretroviral medicines every day. Once a person with HIV begins ART, the medicines must be taken faithfully every day. A woman on ART will gain weight, and look and feel healthier. But if she stops ART, misses doses of medicine, or takes them at the wrong times, HIV can become stronger and make her sick again.

ART and drug resistance:

When people do not take ART at the same times every day, their HIV can become resistant. The virus changes so the medicine will not work as well against it. If drug resistant HIV spreads among many people, then ART medicines will no longer work very well. Taking ART correctly helps preserve its effectiveness for everyone.

This page was updated:21 May 2021