Immunology Center

Treating, Living with HIV

Do I need to be on HIV medicines immediately?

You may or may not need to be on HIV medicines now. When to start taking HIV medicines depends on your overall health, the amount of HIV virus in your blood (viral load) and how well your immune system is working.

You and your doctor will determine the best time to start taking the medicines. Once you begin taking HIV medicines, you may need to continue taking them for the rest of your life.

I hear that HIV care and medicines are expensive, and I don’t have health insurance. Does that mean I cannot get the care I will need to stay healthy?

HIV care and treatment are expensive and are necessary to stay healthy, but there are services to help people who don’t have insurance. There are ways to get free or low-cost care. Here are some options:

  • Financial Advocates for Patients: Hospitals and clinics have financial advocates who help you explore your payment options. If you do not have any insurance, they can help you apply for state assistance (Medicaid, RIte Care or RIte Share). If you don’t qualify for any of those, most hospitals offer financial assistance based on income. 
  • Rhode Island AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP):  This program helps to cover the cost of HIV medicines if you are uninsured or underinsured. To find out if you qualify, contact ADAP at 401-222-4610.
  • Clinical Trials: Clinical trials are health research studies. They are an option for people who are interested and who medically qualify. These studies often pay for HIV medicines and HIV medical care in full. Ask your doctor about this option or contact AIDS Clinical Trial Information Service at 800-874-2572 or (TDD) 800-243-7012. Learn more at

How do I take care of myself?

There are many things you can do for yourself to stay healthy. Here are some of the most important:

  • See a doctor who specializes in HIV treatment.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. Talk to your doctor about your questions and concerns.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicine for you, take the medicine just the way he or she tells you. Taking your medicine incorrectly gives your HIV infection more chance to fight back. If you have side effects from your medicine, call your doctor for advice—don’t change how you take your medicine on your own or because of what friends tell you.
  • Get immunizations to prevent pneumonia and flu.
  • If you smoke or use drugs not prescribed by your doctor, consider reducing or quitting.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eating well is very important because it keep you strong, your energy up and your weight stable.
  • Practice safer sex.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise helps you stay strong and relieve stress.
  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Take time to relax. Many people find prayer or meditation, along with exercise and rest, helps them cope with the stress of living with HIV.


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This material was developed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., and funded by a Centers for Disease Control Prevention grant.