Staying healthy on ARVs

Staying healthy when taking ARV treatment is important for young people living with HIV. This means eating well, doing regular physical activity, maintaining good mental health, and getting enough rest and sleep for the body to function at its best.

You should encourage the young person in your care to make healthy food and drink choices such as eating a balanced meal- this could include more vegetables, high fibre food, lean proteins and avoiding oily food. If possible, as a family create your own vegetable garden and cook fresh food because take away food is mostly unhealthy and is more expensive.

Encourage better drinking habits by encouraging the young person in your care to drink plenty of clean, safe water every day. Aim for six to eight glasses of water a day because water helps with maintaining a good metabolism, is good for the kidneys and helps to improve energy levels. If the young person in your care is underweight because of illness caused by HIV, or is overweight or has any dietary problems or side effects from medicines that makes it hard for them to eat, talk to your healthcare provider about a suitable diet for them. Regular exercise can also help young people living with HIV to feel stronger, boost their immune systems and cope with the side effects of ARVs. Regular physical activity can also promote good mental health. Even taking a short, 10 minute walk every day can have positive health benefits.

Rest, relaxation and sleep are important for everyone, and especially for people living with HIV who need to allow their immune systems to build up strength, so they can deal better with stress and have the energy to deal with the challenges of everyday life. Many people living with HIV have problems sleeping due to worry, anxiety, depression, illness or treatment side effects. Some drugs used to treat HIV and other infections cause sleeplessness, vivid dreams or other problems, but these side effects usually go away after the first few weeks of starting treatment. Lifestyle changes that can be made to encourage better sleep include avoiding caffeinated tea and coffee and other stimulants for several hours before going to bed and not napping during the day. Practical factors such as the comfort, temperature and noise in the sleeping area can also be adjusted to encourage better sleep. Keeping regular sleeping hours may also help to get the body into a good sleep routine.

What about smoking, alcohol and ARVs? Smoking can increase the risk of developing active TB and other lung diseases for people living with HIV. Using alcohol and other substances has risks for people taking ARVs. Alcohol, drugs and ARVs all affect the liver and using alcohol and drugs may increase the chance of having liver complications. A person can get drunk and forget to take their ARVs, or vomit shortly after taking ARVs because of drinking too much alcohol. Using alcohol and other substances can also increase the risk of having unprotected sex. Using drugs and alcohol to try to dull sadness or pain can also make emotional problems worse and have a long-term effect on a young person's mental health.

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Zenzele is an ARV adherence program that promotes adherence to ARV treatment and encourages healthy living on ARVS as part of the HIV journey. The campaign utilizes peer support and social media platforms to promote ARV adherence and ultimately viral load suppression.

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