Being diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is no longer the death sentence it once was, although it is a life-long condition that needs to be properly managed so that HIV-positive people can lead healthy and productive lives.
This is the message that HIV clinician, Dr Kay Mahomed, is hoping to spread through her work at the Wellness Clinic based at Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg. Dr Mahomed was instrumental in establishing the clinic in 2010, which aims to empower and educate people living with HIV/Aids.
“One of the most important aspects of the work we do is understanding that people with HIV/Aids have a chronic illness but also have particular healthcare needs that require medical interventions such as appropriate anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy,” says Dr Mahomed. In order to manage these patients appropriately and effectively, a multidisciplinary approach and sound coordination of various healthcare services are required. This involves HIV clinicians working hand-in-hand with specialists from all disciplines who treat HIV-positive patients, so that they get the most appropriate anti-retroviral treatment. “For example, a patient with HIV and tuberculosis or renal failure will need a treatment plan that is tailored to his or her particular needs,” she says.
“Our HIV clinicians also work very closely with gynaecologists and obstetricians because they are often the first point of contact when a woman falls pregnant. The doctor should conduct an HIV test and a second test is required at 32 weeks of pregnancy even if the patient tested negative the first time. This is because the virus has a window period, and it is still possible for the patient to get infected with HIV after her initial test. If her test results are positive, the doctor refers the mother-to-be to the HIV clinician, who gives her counselling and prescribes ARVs immediately to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Feeding options and fertility are also discussed and her spouse will also be encouraged to have an HIV test and receive counselling,” explains Dr Mahomed.
The clinicians at the Wellness Clinic take a holistic approach to the management of HIV patients and assist with everything from prescribing appropriate medical interventions, to couples counselling, to filling out the necessary forms for patients to register on the chronic disease benefit of their medical scheme. “We also encourage patients to get circumcised as this procedure can decrease a man’s chance of contracting the virus by almost 60%. It is also vital that HIV-positive women get regular pap smears because HIV and cervical cancer go hand-in-hand,” she asserts.
“It is important for people living with HIV and other chronic conditions to fully understand their own role in managing their disease, which often also requires them to make behavioural adjustments,” adds Dr Mahomed. The clinic encourages patients to take ownership of their condition by adhering to their therapy and making certain lifestyle modifications such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and quitting smoking, in order to remain virally suppressed and live a full and productive life.
According to Dr Mahomed, the relationship between a patient and the clinician is like entering into a ‘pact’. A successful outcome can only be achieved if both parties work together. It is a life-long partnership between the patient and the clinician, requiring equal effort from both sides. “And, although there is not yet a cure for HIV/Aids, advances in medication have helped change the lives of millions of infected people. That is why the role of the clinician is so important, because if people know how to manage their disease and take their medication properly, the outcomes can be very positive,” she asserts.
“Being an HIV clinician and managing patients with this condition is truly an ‘art form’ and one of the most rewarding and enriching jobs. I would like to encourage anyone who has HIV or knows someone who is HIV-positive to seek good medical advice. These days, the life expectancy of HIV-positive people who take their ARVs correctly and look after their health is as high as 73 years. It is never too late or too early to start taking control of your illness and to live a positive, healthy life,” concludes Dr Mahomed.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Garden City Hospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Beswick and Jillian Penaluna
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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