HIV treatment

Page last reviewed 15.2.2024

Fast facts about HIV treatment

  • HIV medication keeps a person living with HIV healthy.
  • HIV medication prevents the transmission of HIV.
  • HIV medication is lifelong.
  • HIV medicines should be taken regularly to maintain their effectiveness.
  • HIV medication and other HIV related treatment are free of charge in Finland for people living with HIV.
  • HIV medication can be used during pregnancy and prevents HIV from passing to the fetus.

The medical treatment of HIV is based on antiretroviral medication, which usually contains two or three different kinds of virus medications. Nowadays, an HIV infection is, in practice, a chronic disease that requires treatment and monitoring. The medications slow down the reproduction of the virus and prevents healthy cells from getting infected. The body’s lowered immune system is normalised and the progress of the disease is stopped. Research has shown that when a person takes their HIV medication every day and the medication works, HIV does not spread in unprotected sex.

With the help of treatment, the person’s lifespan is prolonged and the quality of life is improved.  People living with HIV can live wholesome, regular lives. However, with the medication currently in use, the virus cannot be completely abolished from the body.

Video by Avert.

How and when is the medication started?

In Finland, the treatment and care of HIV patients is conducted within special health care. The place for treatment is determined based on where the person with HIV lives. When the HIV infection is diagnosed, the person is given a referral to special health care. Special health care involves the necessary lab tests, meeting with an infection disease specialist and possibly starting medical treatment. The treatment is monitored through regular lab tests as well as appointments with nurses and doctors.

The treatment is started as soon as possible after receiving the HIV diagnosis. The medication works best long-term if the medication is started already when the CD4 cell count is still at a normal. However, even if the treatment is started at a late stage, it can still restore immunity to normal levels. Thanks to the current forms of treatment, even the amount of virus in people who have progressed to the AIDS stage can be considerably lowered and the related diseases can be treated effectively.

What does “undetectable” mean?

When a person is diagnosed with HIV and starts treatment, they visit the doctor to measure their blood virus levels every three to six months. When measuring virus levels, we are interested in how many copies of the virus are found in one milliliter of blood. In Finland, we say that you are “undetectable” when there are less than 20 copies of the virus in one milliliter of blood. Even if you are taking your medication and you are undetectable, you still have HI virus in your body. In Finland, about 95 percent of those receiving HIV treatment reach a state where the viruses are undetectable.

HIV medication during pregnancy

HIV medication prevents the transmission of HIV to the fetus during pregnancy and childbirth. It is possible for a person living with HIV to become pregnant and give birth without fear of the child getting HIV. If HIV medication is used at the beginning of pregnancy, you should continue the same medication. Your doctor will make sure that your medication is safe for your baby. Your virus levels are monitored more closely during pregnancy.

The future of HIV treatment

Unfortunately there is still no cure for HIV and as of now, researchers are not close to finding a cure. However, treatment for HIV is constantly evolving and new HIV drugs are becoming available.

In the near future, long-acting HIV drugs, both injectable and oral, will be on the market. Long-acting drugs are taken (either by injection or orally) once a month or even less often. The evidence for these medicines is promising, their efficacy has been shown to be as good as daily medication. If you are living with HIV, you should ask your doctor about the new medication options. Injectable HIV treatment is now on the market in Finland.

Long-acting injectable HIV treatment is available

A new injectable and long-acting medication for the treatment of HIV has become available. The long-acting treatment utilizes two simultaneous injections every two months instead of daily tablets.

The new treatment is a combination of two antiretroviral (ARV) medicines, cabotegravir and rilpivirine. There are three stages in the initiation of the treatment, first of which involves taking two tablets a day for approximately a month. The tablets consist of the same drugs as the injections and the purpose of the table phase is to follow the suitability of the treatment method to the individual. If the patient and health care staff are satisfied with the reaction to this first phase, can initial injections be given on the last day of tablet treatment. Another set of initial injections are given after one month. In the last phase of the treatment injections are given every two months. Again, the patient will receive two injections every two months and daily tablets will no longer be required. It is important to maintain regularity of injections and it is recommended that shots will be taken on the same day of the month if possible.  Long-acting injectable medication is suitable for people living with HIV who have already responded well to other HIV medications.

Long-acting injectable HIV treatment is a significant addition to the range of HIV medicines – people living with HIV now have a relevant option for daily dosing. The new HIV treatment can help implementing medication to everyday life.

Possible obstacles: according to current knowledge, injectable long-acting HIV medication is not recommended during pregnancy as the effects on the fetus or on the course of pregnancy are not well known.