End in sight for HIV as new drugs make virus ‘untransmittable’

Zero infections between partners during 8-year study A Europe-wide study published in The Lancet, monitored nearly 1,000 gay male couples over eight years, where one partner was HIV-positive and receiving antiretroviral (ART) treatment, while the other was HIV negative.

Doctors did not find a single case of in-couple HIV transmission within that time. This raises hopes that widespread ART programmes could eventually end new infections.

“Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART is zero,” said Alison Rodger, from University College London, co-leader of the research. The researchers support the message… “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.”

 The study alone, the researchers estimate, helped to prevent around 472 HIV transmissions during the eight years.

More than 21 million people currently receive regular ART medication, which suppresses the virus—only around 59 percent of persons living with HIV.

Authors of the study noted that the average age of the HIV-negative men was 38. Most HIV transmissions occur in people aged under 25.

 Individuals currently on ART must take medication almost every day for the rest of their lives, and treatment is often disrupted for a variety of reasons.

But the fact that couples can have unprotected sex for years without passing on the virus was still worth noting, experts said.

 Since the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, more than 77 million people have become infected with HIV. Almost half of them—35.4 million—have died of AIDS.

 “Timely identification of HIV-infected people and provision of effective treatment leads to near normal health and virtual elimination of the risk of HIV transmission,” said Myron Cohen, from the UNC Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

“Yet maximising the benefits of ART has proven daunting: fear, stigma, homophobia, and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV treatment.”

 Its findings add to an earlier phase of the study which looked at HIV transmission risk for serodifferent heterosexual couples in the same circumstances.

It also found zero risk. While 15 of the men among the 972 gay couples in this phase did become infected with HIV during the eight years of follow-up, genetic testing showed their infections were with strains of HIV acquired from another sexual partner. HIV and the fatal opportunistic illnesses it provokes remain one of the world’s largest health crises despite much progress in recent years

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