HIV Viral Suppression Does Not Translate To Health Suppression

People who are living with HIV are often faced with the challenges of an uncertain future, fears of shortened life and stigmatisation from society. Nonetheless, antiretroviral therapies have helped transform HIV into a chronic condition and hopefully, bring positive change in the outlook for those living with HIV. However, does this mean that they do not have the same health-related quality of life (HRQOL) as compared to the general population?

According to an online survey done by Gilead Sciences, Inc. in Taiwan, the data shows that those who are virally suppressed experience similar HRQOL as the general population and this highlights the importance of evaluating an individual’s quality of life, including both physical and mental health-related issues that go beyond viral suppressions.

For many years, people living with HIV have been challenged by fear of the future and uncertainty about their life expectancy. This has been compounded by feelings of stigmatization that have made individuals with HIV reluctant to disclose their condition publicly. However, with the high efficacy and improved tolerability of HIV treatments in recent years, the virus can be suppressed to a point where the disease can now be viewed as a chronic condition,”

– Dr Chien-Yu Cheng, co-author of the study and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Taoyuan General Hospital

Dr Cheng added: “Self-reported outcomes by people living with HIV in our survey show that they can enjoy a similar quality of life to those without the disease. This is remarkable and an encouraging call for the clinical community to support their clients to achieve success in viral suppression.”

The online survey was conducted between July to October 2021 and interviewed 120 virally suppressed people living with HIV in Taiwan, and compared their self-reported HRQOL with that of the general population. Dr Chia-Jui Yang, co-author of the study and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Far Eastern Memorial Hospital said that while the findings of the study show positive improvement in quality of life for those living with HIV in Taiwan, the data shows that more work such as multidisciplinary team intervention is needed to support this community in ageing well.

Do note that because the survey was conducted during the pandemic, some of the symptoms reported may be attributed to COVID-19, given the impact on mental wellness that the pandemic had on the general population as well. Moreover, societal stigmatisation of people living with HIV can affect mental well-being as more than two-thirds of respondents said that they do not feel supported by society.

So what other conclusions can we draw from this study? Chronic HIV care provides an opportunity to support and integrate the management of mental health conditions among those living with HIV but this is often overlooked by health systems. As such, it is important to look at the holistic treatment, care and mental health services for people living with HIV while the general population need to also start to be more accepting towards those living with the disease.

Images: Envato

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