Live Positively

If you do test positive for HIV, these resources will help you understand the medicines and support services available to you.

HIV is treated with a combination of medicines that together are called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is not a cure, but it can help control the virus in your body so that you can live a long, healthy and productive life and reduce your risk of transmitting HIV to others.

ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines at the same time, every day to prevent HIV from multiplying in your body. If you’re taking ART, even though you’ll still have HIV, the amount of virus in your body will stay small (or be reduced over time) and your body will be strong enough to protect you from disease.

Taking ART also protects your sexual partners. The less virus you have in your body, the less likely you are to transmit the virus to other people. So treatment is important for you and the people you care about!

ART makes it much less likely to transmit HIV to your partners, but it doesn’t make it impossible. Plus, ART doesn’t protect you from being re-infected with other strains of HIV, or from other sexually-transmitted infections like syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia, which could complicate your treatment. Even if you’re taking ART, it’s important to continue using other prevention strategies such as the use of condoms and water-based lubricant, and regular STI check-ups.

There are many different medications used to treat HIV. Which combination of medicines you take depends on your own situation. Drugs that work for one person may not work for another, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about which treatments are right for you.

Many people are concerned about side effects from ART treatment. While in the past some HIV treatments caused serious side effects, today they’re generally mild. They often occur when a patient starts treatment and go away after anywhere from a few days to a month. Common side effects include:

  • Anemia (abnormality in red blood cells)
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain and nerve problems
  • Rash

If you experience side effects, don’t stop taking your medicine! Talk to your doctor - you may need to change to a different combination of medicines.

The earlier you begin treatment after becoming infected with HIV, the better for your long-term health. Being on treatment also means you reduce the risk of infecting your partners with HIV. The Vietnam Ministry of Health now supports MSM and other high-risk groups living with HIV to begin immediate treatment, regardless of how long you’ve been infected or the stage of your HIV disease.

If you’re on ART, it’s very important that you take it every day, at the same time, exactly as directed. ART is designed to keep HIV from multiplying in your body – if you continually miss doses, the virus may start multiplying again, and you could develop resistance. This means the medicine you’re taking can no longer stop the virus from multiplying. In this case, you would have to switch to different medicines.

If you do miss a dose, don’t panic! Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, take the medicine you missed as soon as you realize you skipped it. But if your next treatment is due within 2 hours of less, don’t take the missed dose and instead just continue on your regular medication schedule. Don’t take a double dose of a medicine to make up for a missed dose.

Vietnamese citizens can access HIV treatment and antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for free or through health insurance at public clinics and hospitals. For more information on where treatment is available, you can contact the Provincial HIV/AIDS Center in Ho Chi Minh City or the PAC in other provinces.

If you have money and want to pay yourself, HIV treatment is also available in Vietnam through private clinics and hospitals.

ART is free to Vietnam citizens who access treatment under one of the social health protection schemes, at their designated service provider. If you choose to access treatment through a private clinic or hospital, the cost of ART is typically around 900,000 – 2,000,000 VND per month. ART is a lifelong commitment, so when choosing a treatment option it’s important to consider how you will pay for it over time.

Remember, you don’t need to go through this alone. You may decide to tell one or some of your close friends before you tell your family. However, you should talk to someone about it because ignoring your HIV status will not make it go away. If you’d like to talk to someone, there are a number of supportive individuals, groups and organisations in Ho Chi Minh City. Often reaching out and talking to other people is a good way to help you on your treatment journey.