News / Africa

Anti-Retroviral Therapy Protects Against HIV Transmission

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Joe DeCapua

Scientists are reporting “groundbreaking” results in a new study on preventing the spread of HIV/Aids. The U.S. National Institutes of Health [NIH] and UNAIDS have confirmed that a person taking anti-retroviral drugs is much less likely to transmit the AIDS virus, HIV.

“This is ground breaking because it looks at it from the other side. So it looks at not can I take a drug that would prevent me getting HIV infection, but could I start on drugs that would prevent me from transmitting to other people, ” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, Chief Scientific Advisor for UNAIDS in Geneva.

While there was other information indicating that this was possible or even likely, this is the first trial to prove it. “It’s a resounding result,” she said, “with a 96 percent reduction in transmission if one’s on antiretroviral treatment.”

Eleven different drugs were used in trials taking place in Africa, North America, Asia and Latin America.

It’s very good news

Hankins said for families and loved ones, “it means that they now have an additional choice to make. They already have available to them male and female condoms, avoiding penetrative sex, waiting to start sex, male circumcision…but they now have this addition, which is getting on treatment for the person who is HIV positive.”

She added it means couples can have a greater chance of safely starting a family and “it may make for a better quality of life for the person who’s living with HIV, who doesn’t have to be afraid that every single sexual act may cause transmission.”

She cautioned that although the treatment is 96 percent effective, it’s still not foolproof. But combining it with other prevention methods, she said, would provide greater peace of mind.

Cost

Many countries are cutting back on their HIV/AIDS budgets as part of efforts to deal with the global recession.  But Dr. Hankins said paying for more people to be put on treatment should not be dismissed out of hand.

“This kind of an impact, the 96 percent reduction in transmission, could have a major effect on the epidemic. It does mean that we’re going to have to invest more in treatment, but, you know, if we put our shoulders to this and really lean into it, we have a much better chance on getting on top of this epidemic as opposed to letting it grumble on, which it will do for decades and decades if we don’t scale of treatment and scale up prevention rapidly now,” she said.

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