Since the approval of a drug called AZT in 1987, about 30 HIV drugs have been approved for the treatment of people living with HIV, and more are being developed. You may have heard these drugs called many different names, including "The Cocktail," antiretrovirals and highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART or ART). The use of HIV medication, often called antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduces the risk of HIV transmission. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regime) every day.
Standard ART consists of the combination of at least three ARV drugs to effectively suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease. There are currently five different "classes" of HIV drugs. Each class of drug attacks the virus at different points in its life cycle, so if you are taking HIV medication, you will generally take 3 different antiretroviral drugs from 2 different classes.
This regimen is standard for HIV care and is important because no drug can cure HIV, and taking a single drug, by itself, won’t stop HIV from harming you. Taking 3 different HIV medications does the best job of controlling the amount of virus in your body and protecting your immune system. Some HIV medicines are available in combination: two or more different HIV medications combined in one pill.
Taking more than one drug also protects you against HIV drug resistance. When HIV reproduces, it can make copies of itself that are imperfect. These mutations may not respond to the drugs you take to control your HIV. If you follow the 3-drug regimen, the HIV in your body will be less likely to make new copies that don’t respond to your HIV medication.