Washington, D.C. -- At the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) this week, NASTAD (National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors) announced its commitment to communicating one of the most ground-breaking developments in the last two decades of the epidemic: People living with HIV on effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) cannot transmit HIV. The announcement, as a sign-on to the Prevention Access Campaign's consensus statement, reinforces the belief that many have had and that science has now proven.
Understanding that people with HIV who are undetectable cannot transmit HIV to their partners will help reduce decades of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and encourage people with HIV to initiate and adhere to a successful ART regimen.
Only an estimated 40% of the 1.2 million people with HIV in the U.S. are on ART, and less than 10% are aware of the extent to which an undetectable viral load prevents HIV transmission. This points to the need for much greater awareness about the benefits of ART and improved access to HIV testing, treatment and care.
NASTAD joined leading HIV researchers from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Denmark and Switzerland to endorse the consensus statement concluding that people living with HIV who have been on ART for at least six months with an undetectable viral load have a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV. The CDC's "negligible" risk category includes "spitting" and "throwing body fluids." A person with HIV becomes "undetectable" when ART suppresses the virus to a level so low in their blood that it cannot be detected by measurements. The consensus statement is the first of its kind to bring together HIV experts and activists to clarify the research and clear up mixed messages on this important subject.
"The science is clear that people living with HIV with a sustained undetectable viral load do not transmit the virus to others. What's also clear is that we have the tools to end HIV in our lifetime and we must use all of them to help everyone reduce transmission risks. We start by addressing the stigma fueling the epidemic and using the best evidence we have that's based on science, not stigma," remarked NASTAD Executive Director Murray Penner.
In a recent NIH interview, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, Director of the Division of AIDS, NIAID at National Institutes of Health said "Once you begin therapy and you stay on therapy, with full virologic suppression you are not capable of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner." Dr. Dieffenbach went on to explain, "With successful ART that individual is not infectious."
"Until now, there hasn't been anyone ensuring this life-changing information is communicated clearly and meaningfully to people living with HIV," said Bruce Richman, co-founder of Prevention Access Campaign. "The majority of people with HIV believe they will be burdened with the fear of infecting others for the rest of their lives. This commitment from NASTAD is a monumental step toward sharing a message that will improve the social, sexual and reproductive lives of millions of people with HIV in the U.S. and globally."
Prevention Access Campaign is producing FAQs and messaging guides with support from NASTAD to assist public health officials in communicating this important message to people living with HIV and the public-at-large.
Editor's Note: JD Davids of TheBody.com is on the founding task force of Prevention Access Campaign.