Access and Cost of HIV Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: April 2024

For people living with HIV, getting access to treatment can be challenging. This is especially true for people who also have money concerns, poor health insurance, or mental health issues. Missing doctor's appointments and not taking prescribed medicine consistently can compound the obstacles to treatment.1-4

When and why to seek HIV treatment

It is important to start taking HIV treatment as soon as you know you have the condition, even if you do not feel sick. When you begin treatment early and consistently use it while your CD4 cell count is still high, you lower your chances of getting very ill or dying from AIDS-related or other health issues.5

Taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) greatly reduces the amount of HIV in your body, known as your viral load. A low viral load strengthens your immune system and prevents you from getting sick.6

Barriers to accessing HIV treatment

While early, consistent treatment is key, there are several reasons why someone may have trouble accessing treatment for HIV. All of the following factors can delay treatment and lead to worse health outcomes.1-4

Stigma and vulnerability

People living with HIV may be poorly treated because of their illness. This social stigma can lead to feelings of shame and stop them from seeking treatment for HIV.1

Financial issues

Without money or health insurance, getting HIV treatment can be difficult. While there are programs like Medicaid to help with the cost of HIV treatment, many people do not qualify for them.2

Lack of health literacy

When a person is unable to understand medical information well enough to make educated decisions about their health (called health literacy), it can prevent them from:1

  • Navigating healthcare systems
  • Understanding treatment options and medicine instructions
  • Using healthcare services effectively

Mental health and substance use disorder issues

Struggling with mental health issues or substance use disorder can make it difficult to stay on top of HIV care. People with these challenges may miss treatment appointments or stop taking medicine that keeps HIV under control. Some may not start treatment at all.3


Black and LGBTQ+ people face added barriers to accessing quality HIV care and treatment. These barriers may result from:4

  • An unequal impact of laws that criminalize HIV
  • Limited access to PrEP, substance use services, and mental health services
  • Unstable housing

HIV resources

There are many organizations dedicated to HIV education and research. Some of them include:

  • UNAIDS leads global efforts toward zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. It coordinates several UN organizations and collaborates with NGOs to maximize the impact of the AIDS response.
  • amfAR speeds up HIV/AIDS research breakthroughs by swiftly responding to emerging scientific areas. Since 1985, it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, supporting thousands of research grants worldwide.
  • The Elton John AIDS Foundation focuses on reducing HIV/AIDS incidence through innovative prevention programs, combating stigma, and providing direct treatment and support services.
  • The Global Fund is a key driver of progress in global health. It supports strengthening health systems to overcome barriers to better health outcomes.

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