(Photo Credits: National Institutes of Health (NIH) [Public domain])

A groundbreaking new study revealed that HIV-positive patients whose HIV viral load is undetectable have zero chance of transmitting the virus to their partner during condomless sex. 

The study, which was held in 75 sites in 14 European countries, lasted for almost 8 years. The first phase of the study called PARTNER1 focused on both straight and gay couples and was conducted from September 15, 2010 to May 31, 2014. PARTNER2 on the other hand—which was conducted until April 30, 2018—centered on gay couples only. On both instances, the HIV-positive partner was taking suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART) and all participants (972 gay couples) were asked to answer sexual behavior questionnaires. In addition, HIV-negative partners had undergone HIV testing while HIV-positive partners went through HIV-1 viral load testing.

The study has several limitations, according to the researchers, and one of it is the average age of the HIV-negative participants which was 38. The men were also “predominantly of white ethnicity (89%).” Researchers noted that most HIV transmissions occur in young people aged below 25.

“It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed,” Prof. Alison Rodger of University College London, co-leader of the research, said of the results of their study. She said further, “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.”

Finally, Prof. Rodger said that the next steps should be increased efforts geared toward information dissemination, on making effective treatment, access to testing, as well as adherence support, and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load widely available to HIV-positive people. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 21.7 million people worldwide (or 59% of the people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide) were receiving antiretroviral therapy as of December 2017. Moreover, it is said that medication adherence is important and people on ART must “take HIV medicines every day and exactly as prescribed.”

Read the study in full in The Lancet. You can read more on CNN andThe Guardian as well. To find out what undetectable = untransmittable means, you may visit UNAIDS’s feature article about it. 

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