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'End of HIV pandemic' in sight after medicine makes virus 'untransmittable' between sexual partners

The virus remains one of the world’s biggest health problems.

Image: Shutterstock/Hanna Kuprevich

HIV-SUPPRESSING MEDICATION can make the AIDS virus “untransmittable”, even among couples who have sex without using condoms, new research has found.

The discovery was made following a Europe-wide study which monitored nearly 1,000 gay male couples over a period of eight years, where one partner was HIV-positive and receiving antiretroviral (ART) treatment, while the other was HIV negative.

During that time, doctors did not find a single case of HIV transmission among the couples, raising hopes that widespread ART programmes could end new infections.

“Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART is zero,” Alison Rodger of University College London, who co-lead the research published in The Lancet, said.

“They 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.”

Researchers estimate that ART prevented around 470 HIV transmissions within couples during the study period.

The virus and the fatal illnesses it provokes remain one of the world’s largest health crises despite much progress in recent years.

More than 21 million people – only around 59% of those who are HIV positive – currently receive regular ART medication.

However, the authors of the study found there were limitations to the treatment, including that the average age of the HIV-negative men was 38. Most HIV transmissions occur in people aged under 25.

Individuals currently on ART are also required to 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.

“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.”

With additional reporting from - © AFP 2019

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