At the Front Line Against AIDS: The Challenges Nurses Face

At the Front Line Against AIDS: The Challenges Nurses Face

06.09.11 | By Kate Connors

The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care was founded in 1987 with a mission of promoting the individual and collective professional development of nurses involved in the delivery of healthcare to patients with HIV/AIDS. ANAC is a member-driven, chapter-based organization of over 2,500 nurses united to advocate for their HIV patients and advance HIV/AIDS research and standards of HIV care. In its goals is the abiding commitment to the prevention of further HIV infection.

I recently sat down with ANAC's Tom Kujawski to talk about what HIV/AIDS - and the progress in treating the disease - has meant to caregivers such as the nurses represented by ANAC.
How was ANAC founded?
We were organized in 1987 by a core group of 10 nurses that wanted to join together to provide mentorship, leadership, and education to nurses working with individuals with HIV/AIDS. It's proved to be really successful in terms of dissemination of knowledge and making sure nurses and other healthcare professionals are up to speed about the most current standards of care for HIV and AIDS.
What were the early days of ANAC like?
One of the biggest concerns early on was a focus on compassion. There weren't very many well-tolerated treatments during the early years of HIV/AIDS, so more often than not, nurses focused on palliative care to make certain their patients were as comfortable as possible and retain the highest possible quality of life. That proved to become really emotionally challenging for nurses to deal with, and it's why it was so important for them to help support one another and share their knowledge, leadership and support
How have things changed since then?
Since the advent of HAART [highly active antiretroviral therapies], HIV positive patients are having better health outcomes. We now have a stronger focus on education, making certain that our members are aware of the current state of HIV and AIDS treatment and medications and other co-morbid conditions. We found that individuals are living much longer, fuller, more productive lives. But as a result of that, they are facing the other health challenges and diseases that non-HIV patients also confront. So, we're trying to emphasize that all nurses can become an HIV/AIDS nurse when treating HIV patients for other conditions.
We have a robust arsenal of medicines, and even more in the pipeline. But one caveat is making sure that clinicians have an understanding of the subtleties and considerations of different type and classes of medicines so they can preserve their patients' individual treatment options.
Last, now that we can keep patients alive and well so much longer, we have a new emphasis on healthy living strategies, helping patients to learn how they can be interactive in the quality of their own care.
What challenges do HIV nurses now face?
One challenge is actually tied to the medical progress that has been made, because we feel strongly that it's important to have effective HIV policies that support continued advancements in HIV care and treatment. We cannot stifle innovation. Our patients' lives are at stake. Public policy should not hold a patient's health hostage.
HIV patients have a strong bond with their individual nurses. They tend to spend more time with them than their other healthcare providers, so preserving the sanctity of that trust is important. That's why nurses have a key role in identifying the right course of treatment for patients, and why there need to be diverse treatment options. In fact, nurses are excellent vehicles to suggest not just healthy living strategies, but clinical trial opportunities that are available, so that patients themselves can be a part of the future of HIV/AIDS medicines.
What does the future hold?
There is most certainly a shortage of nurses right now, and also concurrent with that is "task shifting," meaning many procedures migrating from physician level to nurse practitioner level. So what we want to do is to provide additional educational resources and good policies to support educational opportunities for nurses so we in turn can be responsive to the projected need of individuals living with HIV in the years to come.

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