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Treatment Is Prevention Part 1

By Gary Bell

August 18, 2011

Some of you may be aware that the annual HIV Prevention Conference has been taking place in Atlanta this week. One of the unique aspects of HIV conferences is that they tend to bring together an eclectic mix of people: consumers, researchers, medical providers, non profits and other assorted advocates. As we, as a society, struggle with finding new and creative ways to reduce the transmission of HIV, it was only natural to consider the impact a medical model might have on this challenge. Perhaps one of the most exciting studies within the last several months demonstrates the benefit of immediate, aggressive HIV treatment in reducing transmission.

Historically, HIV prevention targeted those who were negative. Eventually, more emphasis was placed on "Prevention for Postives," which focused primarily on changing the potentially risky behavior of people who are HIV+. However the promising results of a study, known as HPTN 052,that evaluated whether the immediate use of HAART (Highly Active Anti-retroviral therapy) by HIV-infected individuals would reduce transmission of HIV to their HIV-uninfected partners (which would also potentially benefit the HIV-infected individual), demonstrates the increased role of medical treatment in prevention. The results of the study were truly groundbreaking: there was a 96 percent reduction in risk of HIV transmission to the HIV-uninfected sexual partners.

The results of this study underscores previous efforts to test as many people as possible by making HIV a routine part of medical care as well as aggressive community mobilization by showing that if we can get HIV+ individuals into care and keep them there, it may reduce overall HIV incidence and save lives. Put another way, this study adds another needed weapon to our arsenal as we continue to make progress if our war against this formidable, entrenched enemy: HIV.

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