Treatment as Prevention

In 2008, a study amongst heterosexual couples, said that someone living with HIV who had an undetectable viral load for more than 6 months, and did not have any other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), was to all intents and purposes not ‘infectious’, and therefore could not pass HIV to someone else via sexual contact.

This has now become known as the ‘Swiss Statement’. This study was carried out amongst heterosexual couples, not gay men. However, more recent studies involving gay men have shown similar results.

So what does this mean?
What it means is that the viral load is related to the transmission of HIV. We can conclude that the lower the viral load, the less likely it is for HIV to be passed on. Having an undetectable viral load (for more than 6 months with the absence of any other STIs) means that there would be very little HIV present, and in theory, this means it would be very unlikely that HIV would be passed on.

The phrase ‘treatment as prevention’ is used therefore to explain that HIV medication may prevent the onward transmission of HIV. This is a positive step forward, especially for people with HIV negative partners and for couples who would like to start a family.

However, although the study implies that people who meet the criteria are not sexually ‘infectious’, it’s important to note that nothing in life is ever 100% certain.

As an organisation, we do not advocate a treatment as prevention strategy as the only way of reducing the risks of the onward transmission of HIV.

Reducing risk is way more complicated than this, and we are aware that many people may not feel ready to start or adhere to their HIV medications. Consistent condom use – we already know – is an extremely effective way of preventing the onward transmission of HIV. This topic shows just how far science has advanced over the years. If you would like to discuss ‘treatment as prevention’ please contact us on 01223 508805 or email enquiries@dhiverse.org.uk.