The study found that in male couples if one partner has the virus and is undergoing antiretroviral treatment, the transmission of the virus will not take place even during unprotected sex.
Studies and research have been going on for decades regarding how to cure or even stop the transmission of HIV. In the last two decades, three people have been cured of HIV AIDS out of which two of them were cured in the past couple of years. This shows how far we have come with our research and that we are heading in the right direction. The cure for HIV should be found soon. However, a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancelet shows that scientists have found a new drug that will prevent the transmission of the virus even during unprotected sex. Although the research limits itself to homosexual couples only, it is considered a step closer to finding a way to stop the transmission among heterosexual people as well.
34-year-old Alex Sparrowhawk was diagnosed with HIV in November 2009. Keeping his future, his work, and his relationships in mind, Alex decided to start the antiretroviral treatment. He started by taking four pills a day. He told The Guardian, "I was single at the time. Just navigating what to do – when to tell people and how to talk to people was really difficult." Things have turned around for Alex ever since he was diagnosed with the disease 10 years ago. He gradually reduced his intake to one pill since his viral load came down to such low levels that it was hardly detectable.
End to Aids in sight as huge study finds drugs stop HIV transmission https://t.co/p2qrbILvb3— The Guardian (@guardian) May 3, 2019
The 34-year-old also mentioned that he has been in a relationship for the past seven years. His latest test results show that he has not transmitted the virus to anyone else. According to the study, such cases prove that we are one step closer to finding a cure to the lethal disease. It further stresses the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment in suppressing HIV infection. The study was conducted on around 1000 male couples from across Europe. Although 15 men were infected with HIV during the eight-year study, DNA testing proved that this was through sex with someone other than their partner who was not on treatment.
Prof Alison Rodgers from University College London, the co-leader of the paper said, "It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed. 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."
Till last year, around 40 million people were diagnosed with HIV out of which 21.7 million of them took the antiretroviral treatment. The recent study shows that people need to undergo antiretroviral treatment. It almost wipes out the disease completely. Since 2005, a new diagnosis of the disease has been declining. In 2017, there was a 17 percent decrease when compared to 2016, and in the same year, it dropped to 28 percent when compared with 2015.
However, there is one major challenge that the new diagnosis faces. "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,” said Prof Rogers. In a commentary in the Lanceton the study, Myron S Cohen of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases said, "It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care."
He added, "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." People like Alex Sparrowhawk are constantly worried that they might transfer the disease to their partners. However, thanks to the breakthrough study people diagnosed with the disease know that the drug will gradually reduce the stigma of living with the disease and at the same time reduce the worry of spreading it.
He said, "You’d be told it was very unlikely, or that it was only possible under certain circumstances like having an STI. But you’re constantly worried about these caveats and you go through this worry together. Now we can say zero risk, which is just so much more empowering for people. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders." Alex hopes the findings will help transform public attitudes about HIV, bringing them in line with medical evidence. "A lot of stigma is driven by fear of being exposed to HIV."