The New Normal

As we begin the year, it strikes me that so much current knowledge about HIV is unknown by the majority of the population, and important facts that improve the lives of people, regardless of HIV status, are continually being discovered. Significant HIV research is happening in Canada and we are so close to making a breakthrough to improved treatments, a vaccine or a cure.

Jeremiah Johnson, prevention research and policy coordinator for Treatment Action Group, writes:

“In recent years, two remarkable studies have emerged that provide real solutions for people living with HIV who want to avoid passing the virus on to others. In 2011 the HIV Prevention Trials Network’s 052 study provided evidence that when someone living with HIV takes their medications every day, the risk of transmission was reduced by 96% when the HIV-positive partner had a level of HIV in their blood that was “undetectable,” or so low that it can’t easily be measured.

HPTN 052 focused on heterosexual couples, so it was momentous when earlier this year the PARTNER study in Europe announced similarly optimistic preliminary results for gay men. In that study so far, no new infections occurred in gay couples where the HIV- positive partner had an undetectable viral load.

Having grappled with my own HIV diagnosis over the past seven years, there has been something deeply profound and very personal about the findings of both studies. Ever since the HPTN 052 results were released, I’ve often pondered if my transition into living life with HIV might have been less traumatic had I known that treatment would help me avoid passing HIV on to my sexual partners…….The emergence of these recent studies has been nothing short of miraculous for my mental health..” Read more here.

The impact of these studies is complex and far-reaching. What can be concluded is that people living with HIV and who are on medication, are less likely to transmit the virus than if they were not on medication, and with the knowledge that risk of transmission is near to zero comes great peace of mind to sexually active people. While the positive effects of treatment can’t be denied, it is important that people living with HIV have the space to choose to go on medication when it feels right for them, as the treatment is not without challenges.

It is vital that the results of these studies and the positive outcomes of treatment as prevention be widely known so that people living with HIV can make the best choices for their health and relationships; and in order to combat stigma and discriminatory non-disclosure laws that lump failing to tell a sexual partner about your HIV status with aggravated sexual assault. The law of sexual assault was not intended to deal with disclosure of a sexually transmitted infection, and now with access to health care and medication, HIV is a chronic, treatable, and manageable condition.

Research into HIV vaccination, treatment, and cures is ongoing, and what has been discovered thus far lends great hope to anyone living with or newly diagnosed with HIV. Here’s to an innovative year in research in 2015.