Patients Spurn AIDS Drugs Due to Side Effects

August 6, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

A new study reports that more than 27 percent of Americans are not being treated for HIV because they fear adverse reactions to the drugs. Pharm Exec talked to the doctors in charge of the survey to learn more.

A new study released at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City on Monday detailed the disconcerting fact that 37.5 percent of US interviewees skip AIDS/HIV treatment due to side effects.

AIDS Treatment for Life (ATLIS) polled approximately 3,000 HIV-positive patients from 18 countries to get a better understanding of their treatment regimens. Surprisingly, side effects trumped cost of treatment as the top reason for skipping treatment, with 55.4 percent of respondents admitting that they changed or stopped taking their medicine due to adverse reactions. Also, 27.3 percent of respondents said that they chose not to begin treatment because they felt that the treatments cause too many side effects.

"There are a fair amount of patients who are experiencing side effects from their treatments severe enough to change, stop, or avoid treatment," said Martin Markowitz, clinical director and staff investigator, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. "That underlies the importance of treating patients with regimens that they can tolerate, and educating them about the side effects."

The top side effects that concerned interviewees were physical changes to body and face, liver problems, fatigue, and anemia.

Resistance to treatments is also an issue of concern. More than 28 percent of respondents in the US and 53 percent worldwide said that they were unaware of how resistance to antiretroviral drugs develops. "Treatment interruption without medical monitoring may result in accelerated disease progression," said Markowitz. "It is imperative that physicians and patients address concerns about side effects openly, and evaluate different treatment options that may be more tolerable."

On a positive note for domestically, a significantly higher ratio of US patients said that they were aware of treatment options: 32.9 percent, compared with a 69.4 percent worldwide.

"There is a need to increase the educational and treatment awareness programs that were very active early on, but that have since petered out," said Jose M. Zuniga, president and CEO of the International Association for Physicians in AIDS Care. "The fact that so many patients don?t understand resistance—even in the US—points to the fact that not enough is being done to increase HIV literacy."