Treatment for HIV infection has evolved considerably since the first treatments were developed in the 1980s, as evidenced by the numerous iterations of HIV treatment guidelines for adults, adolescents, children, and pregnant women issued by various federal agencies. Treatment now usually takes the form of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which involves a combination of two or more different classes of anti-HIV drugs. For many, this combination therapy is available in a single pill. These treatments have enabled many people with HIV to live active and healthy lives longer. A significant minority of people, however, experience significant side effects. Long term adherence to the medications may also cause serious side effects.

For some, especially those living in under-resourced parts of the United Stated and the world, access to treatment remains a challenge. Underlying the conversations about the various benefits of HIV treatment are assumptions about what is best for certain individuals, particularly pregnant women and newborn infants, often without any discussion of the relative risks associated with the treatment. As a result, treatment without consent for pregnant women and newborns is not unheard of, thus increasing mistrust of the health care system and leading to missed opportunities for prevention efforts. Treatment also plays a role in other issues, such as criminal laws prohibiting HIV exposure, where it affects viral load, thus influencing the risk of transmission in a given situation.

This HIV Policy Resource Bank category includes materials addressing treatment guidelines and access to antiretroviral drugs, as well as treatment as it relates to young people, pregnant women, consent for health care services, sex work, and international issues.