Name: Anton Reepalu
Profession: Infectious disease doctor
Resides: Sofielund in Malmö
Why did you choose your profession?
My mother is a district doctor and through her I probably got an early picture of the medical profession as an important and exciting profession. Then I was also attracted by the challenge of studying for a profession that is perceived as difficult and demanding. The fact that I later became an infectious disease doctor is largely due to my interest in global health. I had a break from medical studies for six months and then worked as a volunteer in South Africa with an HIV project in schools in KwaZulu-Natal. There I got to see and experience up close the incredible suffering that HIV/AIDS has caused an entire society.
What is most inspiring about your work?
That we can actually cure the vast majority of diseases we treat and where we cannot cure, such as HIV infection, we can offer a treatment that keeps the person healthy for life. The pursuit of more equal access to care even in poorer parts of the world is also something that gives me inspiration to continue in my profession.
What is most challenging in your work?
Right now, long-term covid is the most challenging thing to deal with. We meet many people with great suffering where we unfortunately do not have much to offer beyond the message that for the vast majority it actually gets significantly better over time.
What do you think is the biggest prejudice about HIV?
I think that the prejudices surrounding HIV are very different among different groups. Unfortunately, some still perceive HIV as a form of punishment for bad living. Then, unfortunately, there is still a great deal of ignorance about how HIV is transmitted and, above all, not transmitted.
Do you think a cure for HIV will be discovered in our lifetime?
With a time horizon of 20–30 years, I think it might be possible, but not within the next 10 years. Until then, we can be happy that we actually have access to incredibly effective medicines.
What advice do you give to a newly diagnosed patient with HIV?
That in the midst of all the sadness surrounding the announcement that the person is HIV positive after all, it is important and good to know once status so that we can immediately get started with treatment. Once the treatment works as it should, my hope is that you will be able to continue living just as before, with the difference that you take a tablet or two a day without any troublesome side effects.
Do you think there is any benefit in a newly diagnosed patient having the opportunity to meet another patient living with HIV?
For some people, it can be very valuable to meet another person in a similar situation, while others do not express such a need at all. We always offer conversational contact with one of our counselors who also make such an assessment and, if necessary, can refer the person on to organizations such as yours.
Do you see any challenges in aging with HIV?
The older you get, the risk of contracting other diseases increases, which can make HIV treatment a little difficult due to so-called drug interactions. This can mean that we are forced to change treatment with the risk of side effects, but usually it is fine to adjust the treatment.
If you had contracted HIV, what would have worried you then?
Since I work a lot abroad where access to healthcare is sometimes limited, I would probably be most worried about loosing my tablets when I’m travelling. I think I would have had that worry regardless of the chronic illness I would suffer from.