Don’t share ARVs, health workers warn

Don’t share ARVs, health workers warnA nurse holds up HIV treatment. (File Photo)

For many living in rural areas who are HIV positive, sharing antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) has become a norm. But health officials say no one should share their medication.

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Khulani and Gift Khuzwayo are cousins from Embo in KwaZulu-Natal. Both have known they are HIV positive since 2016 and are on ARVs. Despite living in the same house, they collect their medication at different clinics.

There are times when Khulani has run out of pills, he asks Gift to give him one with a promise to return it from his batch after collecting it from the clinic.

“I borrow from Gift and give it back the following day or the day after. He also asks for mine when he runs out,” says Khulani.

“I see this as helping each other. Instead of defaulting [on taking medication], having a low CD4 count, and low immunity, when there is someone who can help you for that day only. We make sure we take our ARVs every day.”

Gift says they can depend on each other when the other needs a helping hand.

He says: “Even though we’ve been told in clinics that we shouldn’t share our ARVs because it is dangerous and that our CD4 count, blood results and weight are not the same, sometimes I don’t see the reason why not because Khulani and I take the same pill, which is in the same shape, and size, most of the time. We take it at the same time at 8pm. We don’t want the virus to make copies of itself in our bodies.”

“I know I make the mistake of waiting until my medication runs out before getting a new supply but I wasn’t aware that I could fetch it at any clinic. Now that I know, I won’t run out of my supply,” adds Gift.

Public health nurse and HIV specialist, Siboniso Nene, strongly advises that the cousins shouldn’t be sharing ARVs.

He says ARVs are issued on an individual basis and it is calculated when it will be completed.  Sharing can lead to early depletion of ARVs stock issued to a patient, putting a life at risk, increased drug resistance, and ultimately failing the medication regimen.

“What people don’t know is that ARVs are issued based on an individual assessment done which includes blood tests for liver function, kidney function, haemoglobin level and more. ARVs are prescribed per case so regimens aren’t the same.”

Nene says people should stop sharing ARVs before things get worse.

“I believe the reason these two young men and others out there share their supply is because they lack important knowledge about how they should take their ARVs or they ignore what they’ve been told in clinics. More education needs to be done frequently in the health facilities, [in the] media, and social media,” Nene says. – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published in Pretoria News and Daily News newspapers.