Inventive ways to explain HAART and adherence to children

Simon Collins, HIV i-Base

Inventive ways to explain complicated ideas behind HAART allow people of any age to have greater understanding and control over their treatment.

Most healthcare workers and advocates have probably developed their own examples, but amid 100s of adherence-related posters one study from South Africa shared several creative ways to explain the importance of continued treatment and maintaining viral suppressions to children.

The first idea is to pour some pepper in a bowl of water. If you rub your finger with soap and put it in the middle of the floating pepper, the pepper immediately moves to the edge of the bowl. When you take it out it comes back again (though fairly slowly when I tried it personally). The pepper represents the virus and your soapy finger is the medicine. You need to always have the medicine present to reduce viral load.

A second idea is to use a tennis ball sized stress ball to represent the virus and your hand to represent the medicine. It is hard work to keep the stress ball compressed and hidden in your hand – but this shows that the medicine is powerful. If you relax or lift a finger though – ie if you miss a dose – then the virus comes back very quickly.

A third idea is to use a spinning top to represent treatment that is working – and that you need to regularly respin the top to keep it upright, just as you need to repeat doses of HIV medications at regular intervals to keep the treatment working.


Gous H, Moultrie HJA, Meyers TM et al for Wits Paediatric HIV working group, Johannesburg. Adherence interventions in children on anti-retroviral therapy at Harriet Shezi HIV Clinic, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, South Africa. XV Intl AIDS Conference, Bangkok. Abstract WePeB5789.

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