I agreed to participate at the Fifth Annual Statewide HIV/AIDS Policy Conference. The conference took place in Albany, New York late last year. This was my first time as a panelist, and I looked forward to exchanging ideas at the session titled "Alternative Treatments: Worth It or A Waste?"
I have had my share of experiencing both traditional Western medications and the holistic treatment approach. When I was first diagnosed I remember going into a heath food store and asking for anything antiviral. Through trial and error, sometimes costly, I learned some lessons such as the importance of using herbs under the guidance of an herbalist who is familiar with HIV. Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, has benefited my health by reducing stress, aiding my body in detoxifying itself and helping create an energy balance.
If you are considering any treatment, alternative or otherwise, it's important to gather and read as much information as you can on the treatment. There is usually two sides to every treatment for HIV. Know them both so that you can make an informed decision. Kevin Ergil, Dean of Pacific Institute of Oriental Medicine, emphasized the importance of an acupuncturists credentials. Is she or he licensed? Is she or he familiar with HIV/AIDS?
It's important to know that alternative medicine can be used to complement traditional medicine - for instance, it can help the body handle some of the toxic side effects of AZT. A major concern, however, is the disbelief that many western practitioners have regarding alternative therapies. Much of this disbelief stems from lack of knowledge and unwillingness to learn.
At a time when more and more people with HIV/AIDS are questioning the efficacy (how effective a drug is) of AZT, especially after the Concord study, there is interest in alternative treatments such as vitamin therapy, herbs, and therapeutic touch. Women need to communicate their interest in alternative practices with their primary caregiver and request that their bloods be monitored closely.
Factors to consider when incorporating any of these therapies into your regimen are cost, convenience and information. If it cost more than a car payment, it's too much! Is it convenient? How does it fit into your life style? For example do you have time for bitter melon retention enemas every morning? And perhaps the most important thing, how much is really known about it? Do you have solid information that it works?
Because most of these treatments haven't been in clinical trials, the emphasis has to be on gathering information from different sources yourself. Don't just listen to the company's sales pitch that's trying to sell you a new herbal formula. Talk to people that have tried it. Research the ingredients. And always be sure and tell your doctor if you add new treatments so that she or he can watch for new interactions and, hopefully, good results.
Marlene is affiliated with The Network, HIV Law Project, Beth Israel Women's Project, & Women Alive. First printed in "Treatment Data Network".