Post submitted by Peter Cruz, HRC Associate Director of the HIV and Health Equity Program
In a statement released on National Gay Men’s HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that persons living with HIV (PLWH) “who take antiretroviral therapy (ART) daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.” With this statement, the CDC has joined HIV researchers, doctors and service providers throughout the world in affirming the efficacy of treatment as an HIV prevention strategy.
At the 2017 International AIDS Society Conference, researchers from the Kirby Institute at the University of South Wales discussed findings from a recent study with 358 serodiscordant gay male couples (where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative) from Thailand, Brazil and Australia. From 2012-2016, out of 17,000 acts of reported condomless anal intercourse, not a single case of HIV transmission occurred among couples where the HIV-positive partner was virally suppressed.
Despite this significant milestone, the CDC emphasizes that more work needs to be done to achieve the National HIV & AIDS Strategy’s (NHAS) goal of an 80 percent HIV viral suppression rate by 2020. According to the CDC, the viral suppression rate among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men is currently at 61 percent.
In order to achieve the NHAS 2020 goals, HIV providers, policy makers and community members need to work collectively to address the social determinants of health that prevent PLWH - particularly African American and Latino men who have sex with men, youth and transgender women - from accessing and adhering to ART. These social determinants include stigma and discrimination, poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental health and limited support from family and peers. Moreover, it is important to recognize that the burden of HIV & AIDS is now disproportionately affecting individuals who are most marginalized, oppressed and with limited resources. HIV services must continue to take a holistic and client-centered approach to break the historical trauma and distrust within these communities and to ensure that every PLWH has access to and receives the support, resources and services they need to stay engaged with their medical care and achieve viral suppression.