Last year the Centers for Disease Control released a letter that many consider a paradigm shift in regards to HIV/AIDS.
“People who take 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,” reported the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention in a letter dated September 27, 2017.
ART is antiretroviral therapy – a combination of medicine designed to suppress and stop the virus.
“Scientific advances have shown that antiretroviral therapy (ART) preserves the health of people living with HIV,” wrote Division Directors Eugene McCray and Jonathan Mermin. “We also have strong evidence of the prevention effectiveness of ART.”
Seeking to shine more light on these findings and spark a dialogue locally, Pride Center at Equality Park will host a “U=U” town hall next week. U=U stands for Undetectable equals Untransmittable. The program is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the main hall of the Schubert Building.
“The Pride Center has been approached by various community organizations to present on the U=U message and as a source for accurate, timely information the Center felt it was important to bring well-rounded balanced information to the community about this topic,” said Dr. Robert Shore, Pride Center Testing & Outreach Manager. “Rather than having the Pride Center staff offer a response, we have gathered experts in the various fields to help the community understand the U=U message more fully.”
The panel of experts includes Bruce Richman, Founder and Executive Director of the Prevention Access Campaign; Dr. Ana Puga, HIV specialist for CAN Community Health; Alejandro Acosta of Equality Florida and Sonja Richards with the Florida Department of Health in Broward County.
“We hope to get the U=U message out to help combat HIV related stigma and to encourage folks living with HIV to start and stay on treatment,” said Shanna Ratliff, Pride Center Prevention with Positives Manager.
Acosta will speak on criminal transmission of HIV. More than 30 states, including Florida, have laws that criminalize different behaviors of HIV positive individuals.
“Like so many issues that impact society, there is often a knee-jerk response to criminalize something that society sees as a ‘problem’ in the hope that criminalization will be a deterrent and thus lead to resolution,” Shore said. “In the case of HIV, the criminalization laws no longer reflect the science of transmission and also impact the willingness of community members to get tested.”
The CDC reported in 2014 that 49 percent of the 1.1 million living with HIV had a suppressed viral load. In a proud note, Ratliff points to a 2016 Florida Department of Health report showing 64 percent of Broward County cases had suppressed viral loads.
“When ART results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies ml/or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission,” the CDC letter reads.
The CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention came to this conclusion based on three different studies of thousands of serodiscordant couples having sex without condoms or pills such as Truvada, aka PrEP.
Unfortunately, in the same letter, the CDC also noted too many gay and bisexual men are not in treatment.
“Among gay and bisexual men living with diagnosed HIV, 61 percent have achieved viral suppression, more than previous years, but well short of where we want to be.”