A landmark study recently found that all HIV-positive participants who received treatment of fully-suppressing antiretroviral drugs had zero risk of passing along the virus to their partner, potentially putting an end to the AIDS epidemic, reported The Guardian.
The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, followed 1,000 HIV-positive gay males over the course of eight years. By the end of the study, there was not a single case in which the HIV-positive partner receiving treatment passed along the virus to their partner, even without using a condom. Earlier studies have shown that the same treatment has the same effects on heterosexual couples in which one partner is infected with the virus.
University College London researcher Alison Rodger, who is credited as co-lead author on the new study, commented on how promising the results of the study were and on their implications for the AIDS epidemic moving forward.
“It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed. Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART [antiretroviral therapy] is zero.”
Rodger continued to affirm that the findings of the study support the message of the international U=U campaign in that when the virus is barely detectable, it makes HIV untransmittable.
Today, HIV is a chronic illness and people living with the virus who are on treatment can expect to live a lifespan on par with their HIV negative counterparts. https://t.co/Jt8WZ0NWhO
— ENDING HIV (@ENDINGHIV) May 1, 2019
Rodger added that she hopes that the findings of the study will help to end the pandemic by preventing HIV transmission. She also hopes that the stigma surrounding the disease can be laid to rest.
“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load,” Rodger stressed.
Myron S. Cohen of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases also commented on the study’s findings in the medical journal, agreeing with Rodger that next steps include testing and treating everyone with HIV in order to maximize the benefits.
Cohen added that despite the promising results of the study, the stigma surrounding HIV and the lack of access to early-detection testing methods as well as treatment will complicate the eradication of the virus. Late diagnosis is another barrier as it disproportionately affects certain groups and prevents those affected from accessing treatment.
“Diagnosis of HIV infection is difficult in the early stages of infection when transmission is very efficient, and this limitation also compromises the treatment as prevention strategy.”
Despite these challenges, Cohen remains optimistic that the future treatment of AIDS will be more effective, more tolerable, and less expensive.
“The results … provide yet one more catalyst for a universal test-and-treat strategy to provide the full benefits of antiretroviral drugs. This and other strategies continue to push us toward the end of AIDS,” he said.