Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

The HIV Meds

Is there a cure for HIV?

Drugs presently used to treat HIV do not kill the virus or cure HIV. Rather, they work by interfering with the processes of infection of healthy cells and multiplication of the virus, allowing your body to keep its number of healthy T-cells up, thus, strengthening the immune system.

What good does this do? Remember that the goals of treatment are to preserve and restore your immune system, take control of the virus, minimize side effects and drug interactions, avoid any permanent damage, and ultimately, prolong your life and maintain your quality of life. You’ll never know... someone might just discover a cure within your lifetime.

When does one start medication?

Different doctors, different standards. Usually when the CD4 count goes below 300, it is recommended to start medication. The goal would be for your CD4 count not to drop below 200, at which point one is considered to have AIDS.

It will also all depend on the willingness of the patient to start. Starting your medication should mean a lifetime commitment to constantly keep the virus at bay. And missing a dosage is not an option, as it gives the virus a chance to come back with a vengeance, and even allow it to develop a resistance to your medicines. So if it takes someone reminding you, a day-to-day pill case, an obnoxious alarm, or writing on your hand, then do it!

Is there just one kind of medicine for HIV?

No. There are three common types of HIV medication: NRTIs (Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors), NNRTIs (Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors) and PIs (No, not the curse word – Protease Inhibitors). New types have been and are being developed, such as Entry Inhibitors and Integrase Inhibitors.

All of these five kinds of medication act by interfering with the virus’ ability to make copies of itself inside your body. Each of them stops the virus at a different step of its process. And that’s the best fight we can give, at least while waiting for the cure.

Who takes what medicines?

It will really all depend on your doctor’s assessment. You will usually be prescribed one NNRTI plus two NRTIs. But it’s common for your doctor to start you on one combination, and change medications if problems arise, until you figure out the perfect combination for your body. The combination can depend on several factors, including allergic reactions, your adjustment to side effects, your ability to stick to a once- or twice-a-day regimen, and the overall effectiveness of the combination. If you’re lucky, the combination you start with will be the perfect one for you. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Are there side effects and allergic reactions?

Yeah. Allergic reactions can range from rashes and skin disorders, to fevers and the flu. Not to worry, though. Once your doctor identifies the signs, the proper changes will be made. So make sure to communicate openly with your doctor.

Side effects, on the other hand, can come in the form of nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain, skin darkening, or even dreams. The good news is that most of the side effects only last a short while after taking the medicines, or they wane once you’ve adjusted to them. You’ll be back to normal in no time.

How do I know the medicines are working?

Your doctors will know. They will primarily be monitoring your CD4 Count and Viral Load. The CD4 Count is a measure of your immune system’s soldiers, the CD4+ cells. The higher the CD4 count, the stronger your immune system is. The Viral Load on the other hand, is a measure of how much of the enemy, the HIV virus, there is in your blood. The lower the Viral Load, the better, and a decrease in Viral Load over time means that the infection is successfully being suppressed.

Are HIV medicines expensive?

Yes, they are. Although there are companies now that manufacture generic medicines, they still cost at least PhP2,000.00 a month to maintain. And that’s just for one medication. What more for a three-medicine cocktail?! The awesome news? Organizations such as The Global Fund support countries like the Philippines by providing free HIV medication and commodities, and funding infrastructure, training and other support costs. Do you get what this means? Medications are free for HIV-positive Filipinos! Although they say it’s a lifetime commitment, I tend to ask, “Whose lifetime?” So better take advantage now!