Palliative care is a specialized medical care for people facing serious and chronic illnesses. HIV/AIDS is now an acute illness rather than a chronic illness because of new medicines, such as HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy.
HIV is a virus that is carried from person to person through body fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen or vaginal secretions. It damages the immune system, and this can lead to illness and infection. AIDS is an advanced stage of the HIV infection. The virus attacks white blood cells. AIDS can lead to other infections such as certain types of cancer. There is no cure for HIV yet. However, treatment can control HIV and enable people to live a long and healthy life.
If you are living with HIV/AIDS, palliative care can help by managing your symptoms and treatment side effects. These include pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The focus of palliative care for individuals who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are useful for pain management, symptom management, communication/difficult conversations, prognostication and discussions of prognosis, psychosocial and spiritual support, and end of life care/hospice.
Although great strides have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there is still a long way to go in ensuring access to ART and providing comprehensive care to many HIV-infected patients and their loved ones. As researchers develop more and more treatments for HIV that improve patients quality of living and extend their lives, it is necessary to remember the importance of pain control, symptom management, excellent communication, and psychosocial support from time of diagnosis to time of death.
Care providers must remember the fact (and prepare themselves accordingly) that, despite their best efforts, patients with HIV infection will eventually die and that helping prepare them and their loved ones for that eventuality is an important part of caregiving. Ultimately, all treatments for chronic and incurable illnesses such as HIV are palliative, and the simultaneous and interwoven use of disease-modifying and palliative treatments constitutes the “best possible care.” Within each society, and on a global scale, health care providers must strive to assure access to this kind of comprehensive care for all people living with HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses.
Here are some useful links to learn more about palliative care for HIV/AIDS: