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Treatment adherence for young people

You might have learned you have HIV at a young age, or it might have been more recent. Either way, it’s likely that a parent or guardian has helped you to take your treatment at the same time each day. 

As you get older, you’ll probably want to manage your own health and treatment. 

Think about what you can do to remember to take your treatment and to manage your appointments. 

What is adherence?

HIV treatment – also called antiretroviral treatment (ART) – works best when you follow the instructions of how to take it. This is called adherence or adhering to your treatment. 

Most antiretroviral drugs are taken once a day. Some drugs are taken twice a day. 

Good adherence includes: 

  • taking the right amount of pills 

  • taking pills at the right time 

  • following advice to take them with or without food 

  • telling your healthcare worker about other drugs or supplements that you take. 

How can I adhere to my treatment?

Though adherence may seem challenging at first, there are things you can do to make it easier:

  • understand how and when you should take your pills 

  • plan your daily or weekly timetable to think through where you will be when you need to take your pills 

  • link taking your pills to another daily routine – for example brushing your teeth 

  • get support from people around you like family, friends or clinic staff. 

Why is adhering to HIV treatment important?

HIV treatment is not a cure but it will keep you healthy. It’s important to keep taking the treatment as advised by your doctor even if you don’t feel ill because it’s the only way to keep HIV under control and keep you healthy. 

As well as keeping you healthy, treatment reduces the risk of passing HIV on to anyone you have sex with. Taking your treatment regularly and following medical instructions, can reduce the amount of virus in your body to such low levels that there is no risk of passing HIV on. This is called an undetectable viral load. 

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What if I forget to take my treatment?

If you miss a dose of your HIV treatment you should take it as soon as you remember. 

BUT if you only realise when you’re about to take your next dose, do not take a double dose

If you occasionally miss taking your treatment, don’t panic. Most people forget sometimes or are late and their treatment still works. 

But if you’re missing doses regularly (on a weekly or daily basis) you should ask for support. 

Regularly missing doses can mean that the HIV in your body will become resistant to the medication and the drugs will no longer work.  

Let's talk about treatment adherence for young people

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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HIV treatment adherence quiz

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Looking for more detailed information?

How can I support a young person transitioning from paediatric to adult care?

It can be difficult for young people with HIV to move from a paediatric clinic they have gone to their whole life – where they know the staff and are familiar with processes – to an adult clinic. The new clinic will be full of adults and new staff and young people are suddenly expected to take on a more autonomous role in their own care. 

It’s important to support young people through this transition so that there is no gap in their treatment and care. Here are some things you could arrange to support a young person through their transition: 

  • a visit to their new adult clinic so they become familiar with its location 

  • a meeting with the staff at their new clinic before they move there 

  • access to their medical file so they get used to the medical terminology associated with their care 

  • time alone with their current paediatric health professionals, so they get used to taking in information alone and asking questions before the transition. 

How can I help a young person adhere to their HIV treatment?

Lots of young people with HIV experience issues with adhering to treatment when they go through their teenage years. It is a difficult time of life for many reasons. Learning to look after themselves during these years can take some time. 

Being able to meet other young people with HIV – for example, through a community support group – can help them to stick to their treatment. This is because lots of young people find it easier to talk to other young people rather than adults. See if there is a community group, support group, or peer educator system where the young person can hear other young people’s experiences of taking treatment. 

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