Drugs stop HIV transmission with end of Aids epidemic in sight

A landmark study has found “conclusive evidence” that people whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner.

It means that if everyone with HIV were fully treated with his medication treatment, there would be no further infections, leaving the Aids epidemic over.

“It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed,” said Prof Alison Rodger from University College London, the co-leader of the paper published in the Lancet medical journal. Earlier studies have also shown the treatment protects heterosexual couples where one partner has HIV.

She added: “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.”

The study tested 1,000 male couples across Europe where one partner with HIV was receiving treatment to suppress the virus, there were no cases of transmission of the infection to the HIV-negative partner during sex without a condom. Although 15 men were infected with HIV during the eight-year study, DNA testing proved that was through sex with someone other than their partner who was not on treatment.

In 2017, it was reported that 101,600 people in the UK are living with HIV, and of those, around 7,800 are undiagnosed, and unaware they are living with the virus.

According to the National Aids Trust, 97% of people on HIV treatment in the UK have an undetectable level of the virus, meaning they cannot pass it on. “Hearing this can be enormously empowering and reassuring to people living with HIV,” said Deborah Gold, the trust’s chief executive.

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