National Consumers League

Improving medication adherence for people with HIV

burkholder1By Rebecca Burkholder, NCL Vice President for Health Policy For the last several days I have been in Miami at the 8th International Conference on HIV Treatment and Prevention Adherence.  The conference hosts over 400 delegates from more than 30 countries, who work directly providing care to HIV patients or on HIV research.  The conference provides a forum where state of the art science and adherence research for treating HIV are presented, discussed, and translated into evidence-based approaches. While there has been remarkable progress in HIV medicine over the last several years, allowing us to imagine an end to the HIV pandemic, this is tempered by the real world challenges around adherence and prevention.  The keynote speaker, Dr. Badara Samb, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, made a call to action to treat 15 million with HIV by 2015.  Globally, 34 million people are living with HIV. He noted that there are still barriers to care - millions do not have access to treatment, and millions of others who are HIV positive don’t know it yet since they have not been screened. Many people who do know their status, are not getting treatment due to stigma associated with being HIV positive. General sessions and research presentations focused on various aspects of adherence.  Dr. Ira Wilson, Brown University, moderated an interactive panel of HIV health care providers about how to talk to patients about adherence. The discussion included the following tips:  ask patients open-ended questions about adherence, be non-judgmental, don’t make assumptions about a patient’s ability to understand instructions and information, and ask questions about a patient’s life in order to learn about medication-taking behavior. I was invited to give a workshop on NCL’s Script Your Future campaign to raise awareness of the importance of adherence.  While the campaign currently focuses on three chronic condition areas – respiratory, diabetes, and cardiovascular - there was interest in expanding our campaign to include HIV, since many of those with HIV suffer from other chronic conditions as well. The research and clinical work showcased at the conference, along with the clear dedication and commitment of these health care professionals, is key to the ongoing treatment and prevention of HIV.