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Editor's Column

Patient, Heal Thyself

Patient, Heal Thyself


On the heels of the news that we reported on in our last issue about annual AIDS diagnoses in this country increasing for the first time in almost a decade, we hear more to tell us that many HIVers may not be taking as good care of themselves as they could be. A study published in the October 18 edition of The Lancet medical journal on a project studying HIV-positive individuals found that since people began using highly active antiretroviral therapy, the risk of death from AIDS-related causes has dropped by incredible increments. There was a 53% decline just after widespread use of HAART began, in 1997, and by 2001 the rate had reached 84%. Furthermore, among the people studied, age was essentially not a risk factor for death when associated with HIV. Whereas at one point older people could be expected to succumb to AIDS-related ailments more quickly, that no longer holds true. That all sounds like pretty great news, right? Hold on. Earlier in 2003 the World Health Organization released data showing that only about 50% of patients follow their doctors' orders when it comes to taking their prescription medications. This, the WHO found, led to a greater contribution to AIDS-related deaths and emergency room admissions. Now, if you are thinking that since this was a WHO study, the statistics are probably reflecting mainly people in underdeveloped nations, you would be wrong. Researchers found that rich, highly educated patients were just as likely not to adhere to their prescribed regimens as poor or less-educated individuals. What it all boiled down to is that for a variety of reasons people just do not take their medications. If people did take their medications as prescribed, though, the researchers concluded, there would be a lot fewer deaths from AIDS-related causes. But basically, that is just the tip of the iceberg. As we reveal in our cover story package in this issue, when it comes to health issues, HIV-positive people have more to be concerned about than just HIV itself. With the advent of HAART, life expectancy has increased for a great number of people, yet many of these people never thought they would see themselves live beyond a certain age. And thus, a lot of health precautions have been ignored along the way. As HIVers reach and pass their 30s, 40s, 50s, and so on, they are regularly finding that 'old age' ailments can easily become the problems they had never feared. In fact, another study, released in late October at the Ninth European AIDS Conference, showed that cardiovascular disease has become the leading cause of hospital admissions among HIV patients. The data, which came from several U.S. health care plans for 2000 and 2001, showed that heart disease was more prevalent than such expected complications as kidney failure, liver toxicity, and opportunistic infections. What is the lesson in all of this? Take better care of yourselves, for Pete's sake! A long, healthy life is within your grasp'if you want it. I hope you find this issue on approaching healthy living from several angles to be helpful. It could encourage you to achieve a lot of what you never thought you would have. So until next time'please'stay aware and stay well.

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Michael W.E. Edwards