Anti-retroviral therapy refers to the use of drugs that inhibit the enzymes that HIV needs to break down and transmit to other cells. A specific plan of action to treat the infected and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia was established in 2003, when the Ministry of Health began treating patients for the first time at the Moung Russey Referral Hospital in Battambang province’s southeast.

Ouk Vichea, head of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases addressed a July 29 conference on The importance of managing anti-retroviral therapy according to national-level guidelines. The programme was organised by the Cambodian Red Cross.

Vichea added that for anti-retroviral therapy to be successful, patients must begin treatment on the same day that they test positive.

“We must not wait because the sooner we treat it, the more effective it is at reducing the spread of HIV into the blood,” he said.

According to the National Guidelines for Antiretroviral Therapy for Adults, introduced by the Ministry of Health in 2012, it was important for patients to take their antiretroviral drugs regularly. Patients should be sure to take the dosages recommended by their doctor, as it was only effective if managed correctly.

The guidelines said that poor adherence to their prescribed course of medicine was the leading cause of failed treatment, and could lead to the HIV virus becoming resistant to the drugs.

Vichea also said that no medication has been discovered which can completely cure HIV/AIDS, but the ministry had the drugs needed to curb sub-variants of the virus which might develop in patients.

“The use of anti-HIV medication restores our immunity systems – in which CD4 white blood cells take on the role of soldiers protecting the body of the patient. If immunity declines, the virus will allow opportunistic diseases like TB and meningitis to attack the patient,” he said.

He encouraged those who suspect that may have been at risk of infection to get tested as soon as possible. Early treatment achieved far better results than waiting for the virus to weaken the immune system.

“Timely treatment can help reduce severe illness and even deaths. With early intervention and the correct treatment, they will be every bit as healthy as any other person,” Vichea added.

Pok Savoeun, chief of National Clinic of dermatology and venereology at the national centre, reiterated that according to national guidelines, when its clients tested positive for the virus, the clinic must provide treatment immediately. If their condition looks good, the centre will provide anti-retroviral therapy.

He added that if HIV-infected persons were in poor health, the doctors may have to treat opportunistic infections.

Cambodia is committed to achieving the target of eliminating HIV infections and achieving viral suppression by 2025.