July 14, 2008
You'll need to find a health care provider (this could be a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) with special training in HIV who has treated 20 or more people with HIV, in the past two years. You'll want someone who stays on top of the newest information about HIV medications, tests and other issues. You'll also want someone who has extensive experience treating women with HIV.
However, it's just as important to choose someone you like, someone you feel you can trust and be open with. This means you'll need to find someone you can be honest with about sensitive issues -- everything from sex, drugs and alcohol use to missing doses of HIV meds.
Your health care provider is your partner in fighting the virus. She or he will be your ally for a long time, helping you deal with the ups and downs of HIV disease, the drugs that control the virus, the side effects that may come with the drugs, and many other health issues.
"My HIV specialist and I have a good relationship. We are like equal partners, where he tells me everything I need to know medically, but I make the final decisions. He has both compassion and great knowledge of HIV."
-- Joyce McDonald, diagnosed in 1995
There's a nationwide network of services, programs and resources to help people with HIV remain healthy -- even people who have no insurance or low incomes.
Many big cities have state-of-the-art HIV clinics for people who have no insurance. When you enroll in these clinics, you get medical care from a top team of HIV health care providers as well as counseling and support for mental health, substance abuse and other issues. You may be assigned to a case manager, who will become the person you can turn to first for whatever help you need -- such as figuring out which government programs can pay for your HIV medications and HIV care.
"I believe diet and exercise are extremely helpful. I believe you have to participate in the solution, and not wait for somebody to hand you the answer in a pill, or a shot."
-- Sherri Lewis, diagnosed in 1987
Live in a rural area? Getting the best HIV care possible may mean traveling to the nearest city several times a year -- an extra effort, but one that will repay you with better health.
For a list of HIV clinics near you, call the CDC Healthline at 1-800-232-4636. An HIV clinic will give you better care than other types of health clinics or hospital emergency rooms, since it is staffed by HIV specialists and is equipped specifically to help people with HIV.
"It wasn't an easy road. I got help from a great group of professionals who provided counseling ... I received every service that I could to make sure that I would survive."
-- Fortunata Kasege, diagnosed in 1997 when she was pregnant. Her daughter is HIV negative.
Also keep in mind that women with HIV are much more likely to have gynecological problems like irregular periods and abnormal Pap smears. If your HIV specialist doesn't provide gynecological care, be sure to ask your HIV specialist for a referral to a gynecologist who has experience working with HIV-positive women.