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AIDS/HIV treatment sees major gains over time

October 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than 60,000 people are living HIV and AIDS in Los Angeles County. It's gone from a death sentence to a disease where patients can live long, healthy lives. But experts remind us that there's still a lot of work to do.

When AIDS Project Los Angeles treatment educator Octavio Vallejo meets with clients he feels he gives them hope. Far different than how it used to be.

"Imagine when the rate of survival was between six months to four years," said Vallejo.

"It was profoundly depressing," said HIV specialist Dr. Michael Sampson.

Twenty years ago, Sampson remembers how little he could do for AIDS patients. When protease inhibitors became available in the early 1990s, it was very exciting. But the treatments were harsh: Multiple pills with severe side effects.

"We've come such a long way from 15 pills that renders one sick on a daily base, to one pill once a day with literally no side effects," said Sampson.

Sampson says improvements in retroviral medications have turned HIV and AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease, much like the treatment of diabetes.

"With early diagnosis and care, an HIV-positive person can be expected to live a long and healthy life," said Sampson.

While new medications, education and prevention strategies all help, experts say patients can't reap the benefits without support.

"If one has other issues going on, which does not enable one to take medications on a daily basis, then one can develop resistance," said Sampson.

"If the person has no food, no shelter, no place to live, none of the basic needs, regardless of the information you might have, the bottom line, the medication will not help," said Vallejo.

And that's the mission of agencies like AIDS Project LA. Its annual AIDS Walk raises funds for the comprehensive needs of clients. APLA's goal is also to raise awareness and improve prevention.

"In terms of HIV testing, they've made tremendous gains in that respect," said Sampson.


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