A landmark European study is showing that compliance with HIV treatment can be effective in preventing sexual transmission of the disease to non-HIV infected persons. According to the results of the study, the risk of passing HIV is nonexistent when the virus is suppressed by effective anti-retroviral treatment. The findings have been published in the medical journal Lancet.
The study, which was called PARTNER2, assessed the risk of HIV transmission between couples where one partner is HIV-positive and one is HIV-negative who do not use condoms. The project followed 1,000 male couples of mixed-HIV status from 14 countries in Europe over an eight-year period. In each couple, one partner had HIV and was taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
During the course of the couples had unprotected sex. After eight years of follow-up, the study found no cases at all of HIV transmission within couples. While 15 of the men did become infected with HIV during the course of the study, genetic testing showed their infections were strains of HIV acquired from another sexual partner. The researchers estimate that the ART treatment prevented around 472 HIV transmissions during the period.
According to Alison Rodger, the study’s co-researcher and a professor at the University College London, the study proves that using antiretroviral therapy to suppress the virus could help end the HIV pandemic by preventing the virus’ transmission in high-risk populations. Roger said in a press release, “Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART is zero.”
Its findings add to an earlier phase of the study, called PARTNER1, which focused on heterosexual couples. The study was conducted using very similar parameters. The results, which were published in 2016, also found zero HIV transmission risk with ART.
The study gives hope that appropriate ART use could end this disease, which has killed 35 million people worldwide. Since the start of the AIDS epidemic, more than 77 million people have become infected with HIV. There were about 1.8 million new cases of HIV globally in 2017 alone.