An end to AIDS could be in sight as a study found men whose HIV infection was suppressed by drugs did not pass it on to their partner.
The eight-year-long study was carried out among nearly 1,000 male couples across Europe, where one partner with HIV was receiving antiretroviral treatment to suppress the virus.
Findings published in Lancet medical journal showed that HIV was not transmitted during sex without a condom, meaning none of the partners who were HIV-free became infected with the virus.
HIV damages the cells in your immune system, and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
Although 15 men were infected during the study, DNA testing proved the virus had been passed through sex with someone other than their partner; someone who was not on treatment.
Prof. Alison Rodgers, from University College London, worked as co-leader of the paper and explained the significance of the results.
According to The Guardian, she said:
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. Our findings support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable.
This powerful message can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face.
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.
In 2017, there were almost 40 million people worldwide living with HIV, and roughly 21.7 million were on antiretroviral treatment.
According to the National AIDS Trust (NAT) as of 2017 an estimated 101,600 people were living with HIV in the UK, but one in 12 of those were undiagnosed.
Myron Cohen, of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, responded to the study in the Lancet, saying the findings should push the world forward on a strategy to test and treat everyone who has HIV.
However he admitted there are still some limitations, saying:
It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care; in addition, fear, stigma, homophobia and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV 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.
Although Deborah Gold, NAT’s chief executive, reportedly said it is empowering to hear that HIV treatment can prevent the virus from being transmitted, she added that government funding cuts to specialist health services would make it more difficult to achieve a goal of eliminating transmission by 2030.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.