March 7, 2021
by: Sabrina Tamburri, Western University, Year 2

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a major global health problem, accounting for more than 35 million deaths to date. Out of the 37.9 million people currently living with HIV, about 25.7 million are living in Africa. That’s approximately 2/3!

81% of people living with HIV in Africa know their HIV status, but only 64% have access to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

What Is HIV?

HIV targets cells in the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and some cancers. HIV can advance into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can take 2-15 years to develop.

Importance of Treatment

Without treatment, HIV can develop into severe illnesses such as tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, and certain cancers.

Tuberculosis remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, accounting for around one in three AIDS-related deaths.

What Is Being Done?

Through national HIV programmes and a range of developmental partners, HIV infections fell by 37% between 2000 and 2018, but it remains a global health issue.

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

The role of physiotherapists in caring for those with HIV is often overlooked. As advancements in treatment develop, the life expectancy of those affected increases. Therefore, the need for rehabilitation and long-term symptom management also increases. Additionally, as HIV is a multisystem pathology, hospital stays are usually prolonged and, thus, a variety of issues can arise, including muscle wasting, contractures, pressure sores, respiratory compromise, etc.

In the acute stages, physiotherapists can help maintain the airways and clear secretions, maintain joint ranges and muscle flexibility, and prevent secondary issues that may arise from bedrest.

In the chronic stages, physiotherapists can help manage pain, maintain joint ranges and muscle flexibility, inform provision of gait aids, advise on health promotion, and provide exercise prescription to maintain functional strength and abilities.

Learn more about HIV and AIDS in Africa and around the world on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

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