A groundbreaking new HIV study has found that there is “effectively zero” chance for people receiving antiretroviral treatment to spread the virus that causes AIDS, which is still linked to around 1 million deaths globally every year.
Researchers involved in the massive study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, believe this could be the definitive study on whether current antiretroviral drugs are effective at stopping HIV.
“Our findings provide conclusive evidence that the risk of HIV transmission through anal sex when HIV viral load is suppressed is effectively zero,” the study authors wrote, noting that transmission through anal sex is one of the most efficient ways for the virus to travel between partners.
The research studied around 1,000 male couples across Europe in which one partner was HIV-positive and receiving treatment with antiretroviral drugs. Over the course of eight years, there was not a single case in which an HIV-positive patient in the study transmitted the virus to their partner.
Though 15 of the subjects did become infected with HIV throughout the course of the study, the researchers concluded through genetic testing that those men contracted the virus through sex with an outside partner.
Such conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of the drugs “is necessary to promote the benefits of early testing and treatment and to tackle stigma, discrimination, and criminalisation laws that continue to affect HIV-positive people,” the authors wrote.
The research helps expand on the findings from a 2011 study, which had a majority of male-female couples, about the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, researchers added.
The Lancet provided a formal comment on the study from Myron Cohen, a physician with the University of North Carolina’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. These important findings, he said, should “serve to inspire and challenge us” to overcome the roadblocks that prevent HIV-positive people from receiving treatment.
“It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care; in addition, fear, stigma, homophobia, and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV treatment,” he said.
According to the United Nations, there were around 37 million people living with HIV in 2017, but only around 22 million of them were receiving antiretroviral treatment.
That same year, nearly 2 million people were newly diagnosed with the virus and around 1 million died from AIDS-related illnesses.
You can read the full study here.