Sara Komaiszko, MA Media in Development
2018 has been a significant year in the history of HIV/AIDS. After 40 years of the epidemic, the last 10 years of research has shown evidence that people living with HIV and taking medication cannot pass on the virus. This has been the most revolutionary statement since 2012, when doctors stopped talking about HIV/AIDS as a terminal illness, and started calling it a ‘’chronic disease, like diabetes’’ instead. Health issues are no longer the biggest problem of people living with the virus, as those diagnosed who are on antiretroviral treatment, unless hitten by a truck, will most likely live to an old age. It is the HIV/AIDS stigma that is the most challenging in their everyday lives.
Therefore, the campaign Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) rolled out by Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), has been a game-changer not only for people living with HIV, but pretty much everyone who is sexually active.
So, how does the U=U work? As reported by UNAIDS, three large studies of sexual HIV transmission among thousands of couples, one partner of which was living with HIV and the other was not, were undertaken between 2007 and 2016. In those studies, there was not a single case of sexual transmission of HIV from a virally suppressed person living with HIV to their HIV-negative partner. Hence, in addition to enabling people living with HIV to stay healthy and have a lifespan similar to people not living with HIV, antiretroviral medicines now provide an opportunity for people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load to have sex without a condom with effectively no risk of passing HIV on to their partner.
Antiretroviral drugs suppress the viral load in HIV-positive person’s blood, which makes it undetectable (less than 50 copies per millilitre of blood) and impossible to transmit during the sexual intercourse.
Strikingly, it turns out that it is not people diagnosed with HIV who are causing the risk of transmission of the virus (as they are usually taken care of by doctors and on treatment, so uninfectious), but people who do not know their status. Hence, they are unknowingly most likely to pass it on their partners when having unprotected sex.
“Undoubtedly, by knowing our HIV status, we can consciously and actively contribute to fighting the pandemic and eventually bring the number of new infections down to zero.”
‘’Know Your Status’’ is the theme for 2018 World AIDS Day. Celebrated annually on the 1st of December, it is a great opportunity for people worldwide to unite against the stigma and show support towards these affected by the virus. This year’s theme is supposed to destigmatize HIV-testing and, on a larger scale, to help stop AIDS.
In the UK, about one in eight people with HIV are undiagnosed and unaware they have the virus. Prince Harry, who is on the mission to call for society to embrace HIV/AIDS testing, takes his own test publicly every year since 2016. He says: ‘’There is still too much stigma which is stopping so many of us from getting a simple, quick and easy test. Taking HIV test should be something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.’’
World AIDS Day is a yet another perfect occasion to remind ourselves that our world is in our hands. “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’’ By the way! Mosquitos do not transmit HIV. Undiagnosed human beings do. Be like a mosquito and make a difference for World AIDS Day this year.
Photo Credit: The campaign Undetectable=Untransmittable rolled out by UNAIDS, has been a game-changer not only for people living with HIV, but pretty much everyone who is sexually active. / Pixabay