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How to support someone with HIV/AIDS

People with HIV/AIDS are often isolated at a time when they need support most. Here’s how to give them the support they need.

16 April 2015 | By Glynis Horning

Today advances in antiretroviral medication (ARVs) have made HIV/Aids a chronic but manageable disease, and most people with it can lead healthy, long lives. However, fear and ignorance around it persist, and some HIV-positive people still face the shame of stigma and discrimination, negative attitudes and abuse. 

Unfortunately stigma and misconceptions around HIV/Aids persists in some quarters, says Professor Francois Venter, executive director: Ezintsha, Faculty of Health Sciences, at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Misconceptions still include that HIV/AIDS will inevitably lead to death, that it’s easily contagious and that it’s the result of irresponsible behaviour. Some HIV-positive people are shunned by family, friends and community members. Others face poor treatment in healthcare and educational facilities, leading to emotional and psychological harm. Studies have found that people living with HIV are significantly more likely than others to suffer from depression.

It’s important that they feel accepted and supported, so they continue to take their medication and don’t lose hope for the future.

How best to support people living with HIV

Educate yourself about HIV: You can’t be infected by touching, hugging, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils with someone HIV positive. The virus can only be passed on through unprotected sex (unless ARV treatment has reduced the infected person’s viral load to an undetectable level), or through contact with infected blood, vomit or other body fluids. As a partner, this means using condoms (which will also protect against other STIs), or taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis medication) to protect yourself. If you have queries, contact the National Aids helpline 0800 012 322.

Be there for them: Listen empathetically and take your cue from them. They may not want to talk about HIV, but let them know you are available for open, honest conversations. Reassure them that their HIV status doesn’t change your relationship – that you see them as you always have, they are not just their diagnosis. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. 

Encourage treatment: There are benefits to starting ARVs as soon as possible, and it’s vital that this is taken as directed, and for always, says Venter.  Help them remember. And if they battle with side effects (rare with today’s agents, he says), encourage them to speak to their health professional about possibly changing their medication. Support their general health by encouraging them to eat healthy, balanced meals, to exercise regularly and to get enough sleep. 

Suggest a support group: Support groups are still often best way for HIV-positive people to share their feelings, enabling them to open up with those who are having the same experiences. Encourage your loved one to attend a group in person or online. 

Take care of yourself: To be a solid support, you need to take care of your own emotional and psychological well-being. Speak to family and good friends, or find a support group yourself, or a therapist to help you deal with your own issues.

How Clicks Clinics can help

Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at their clinics. To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com