Early Treatment of HIV and Working

By now, the health benefits of early treatment for HIV are well established. People with HIV who start antiretrovirals before their CD4 count is low have fewer opportunistic infections, and are generally healthier and live longer than people with HIV who do not start on ARVs until their CD4 count is dangerously low.

Recent studies have found another benefit to starting treatment early: an economic one. One study of a farming village in Uganda found that people with CD4 counts below 200 on average worked one week a month less then people who had CD4 counts over 500. This means that people with low CD4 counts are less able to support themselves and their families. Another study, in India, found that people with HIV/AIDS were more likely to be employed or working 6 months after starting ARVs and worked more hours.

The benefits don’t just impact individuals with HIV/AIDS. In the Ugandan study, teenagers whose parents had CD4 levels below 350 were less likely to be attending school. They needed to help out on the family farm when their parents became too ill to work.

In a world where there aren’t enough ARVs for everyone who needs them, starting treatment early is not an option for many people. These studies were designed and directed at governments and NGO aid organizations. If more money is made available to provide ARVs at an earlier stage for people with HIV/AIDS, then people with HIV will be more able to work and the economies of their countries will be strengthed. If employers are willing to help pay for ARVs, their employees will be able to work more hours and will not need to quit when they get too sick to work.

However these studies do have a message for people with HIV/AIDS and for people who have not been tested for HIV recently. If you have an opportunity to get early access to ARVs, take it. Stay on your medication if you are receiving it. And get tested, so that if you are infected you can get treatment as early as possible.

Supporting yourself and your family is difficult enough. HIV/AIDS makes it immensely harder. Getting on ARVs early can help, so if you have a choice, don’t wait.

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