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Palliative Care & HIV/AIDS

Palliative care is a medical treatment meant to prevent, relieve, or reduce the symptoms of a disease or disorder without affecting a cure. Palliative care is not intended to replace disease-modifying treatments such as antiretroviral therapy, but will augment the comfort and support of individuals and families who are living with life-threatening illness. Palliative care is not just about planning for a good death. It may be required throughout the course of illness to address such areas as pain and symptom control, psychological and psychosocial issues, legal matters, and spiritual and cultural concerns.

Why Palliative Care and HIV/AIDS?

Improved palliative care is important in HIV/AIDS care because, despite advances in highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) and a sharp decline in mortality rates, AIDS remains a leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44 years. Dramatic advances in treatment of HIV infection have transformed AIDS from a disease with a short and fatal course to a chronic illness. With this transformation, physicians are understandably focused less on palliative care issues than in the pre-HAART era and have found that care for the patient dying with AIDS has actually become more difficult. In the HAART era, integrating palliative care into disease-modifying therapy for AIDS has become a more complex issue that requires advanced training for clinicians.

In addition, HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects individuals marginalized in society. These individuals often enter into health care later in the disease process and may lack access or the resources to manage the complexities of HAART. Many people with AIDS risk having medical and palliative care withheld by a system with which they do not easily interact or they may receive inappropriately aggressive curative care because of inadequate communication with their providers. Educating health care providers on culturally-relevant HIV/AIDS palliative care is critical as the epidemic continues to spread globally.




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