The Dallas Observer has an important story about living with HIV in the Cocktail era. The article includes details about the rigors and side-effects of the drugs that can keep HIV at bay:

“Cocktails required strict adherence to a daily regimen of about 20 pills. Miss a few doses, and the virus was unforgiving. It might multiply and mutate, this time roaring back by the millions to stalk the immune system with a strain resistant to the original therapy….”

“Because the Food and Drug Administration had humanely fast-tracked its approval (under pressure from AIDS activists), not much was known about the medications’ side effects, and what was known was downplayed. Nausea, vomiting and intractable diarrhea made life with cocktails (also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART) as unpredictable as it was unpleasant… with cocktails came freaky tales of fat redistribution and increased risks for diabetes and heart attack as well as renal and pancreatic damage.”

The predictable result is that many patients do not adhere to the rigid regime required by the cocktail — and the virus mutates. Furthermore, since the side effects are hidden and not publicly discussed, many people assume that living with AIDS is manageable, that it’s not so bad. Consequently, in 2002, the number of new AIDS cases in the U.S. increased for the first time in a decade.

The article includes heart-wrenching stories about living with HIV. The cocktail may save lives, but it makes living hard. Many cannot work while taking the drugs because of the unpredictable side-effects. Their lives become an endless circle of food banks, HIV shelters, hotlines and social services — all of which they must navigate while adhering to their strict dosing regime. It’s not working.

The whole article is worth a read, but the message is clear: apathy is unwarranted, and we need to start paying attention to this disease again.

Posted on November 17th, 2003 by Katxena