Breakthrough in HIV prevention

An HIV and AIDS ribbon
Steve Lewis
By Steve Lewis: May 16th, 2011

I was very happy to read today about an important study from the US National Institutes of Health. This  shows that if an HIV-positive person adheres to an effective antiretroviral therapy regimen, the risk of transmitting the virus to their uninfected sexual partner can be reduced by 96%. Comments from UNAIDS and other agencies show how crucial this is:

“This breakthrough is a serious game changer and will drive the prevention revolution forward,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “It makes HIV treatment a new priority prevention option.”

“Previous data about the potential value of antiretrovirals in making HIV-infected individuals less infectious to their sexual partners came largely from observational and epidemiological studies,” said Dr Anthony S Fauci, director of the NIAID. “This new finding convincingly demonstrates that treating the infected individual – and doing so sooner rather than later – can have a major impact on reducing HIV transmission.”

The study was carried out in 13 countries including five where VSO supports HIV/AIDS and health programmes (India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe). I’ve only visited a few of these programmes, but I know that in all of them VSO and partners have been advocating for a scaling up of treatment, especially for women and groups that are traditionally hard to reach, for example disabled people and people in rural areas.  Partners and volunteers are convinced that if HIV treatment is made more widely available then the stigma and discrimination attached to HIV will diminish.  This study for once gives us optimistic news on HIV.

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