Back in the 80s I went to New York to say farewell to a dear friend who was in the last throes of AIDS. It was a terrifying goodbye. He was ill, rake-thin, couldn’t eat, was retching all the time and could hardly stand up.
He showed me the drugs he had to take every day which were clearly not working.
It’s a completely different picture today. Antiretroviral drugs can hold HIV at bay but the stigma of AIDS and the fear of passing it on remain, says Tamás Bereczky in The BMJ, an AIDS sufferer himself and a member of the European AIDS Treatment Group. And here’s where the U=U campaign comes in.
The U=U campaign (undetectable means untransmittable) aims to publicise the fact that people in whom the HIV is undetectable cannot transmit HIV.
In 2008, the Swiss National AIDS Commission stated that people taking effective antiretroviral treatment can’t pass on HIV via sex. That acceptance of the U=U consensus statement has been endorsed by many prestigious organisations, researchers, and politicians from nearly 100 countries.
It says: “People with HIV on anti-retroviral therapy with an undetectable viral load in the blood have a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Depending on the drugs employed it may take as long as six months for it to become undetectable.
Continued and reliable HIV suppression requires selection of appropriate agents and adherence to treatment. HIV viral suppression should be monitored to assure both personal health and public health benefits.”
All very good. However, the website of the U=U campaign contains a separate page about the “third U”: universal access: “Our challenge for the U=U community is to continue to fight for universal access for all people with HIV, regardless of what barriers may exist and regardless of where they may live.”
I’ve been writing about HIV prevention and protection for some time. The Prevention Access Campaign was launched in 2016 by a group of HIV activists led by its current founding executive director, Bruce Richman.
Its U=U movement disseminates “the revolutionary but largely unknown fact that people who are living with HIV on effective treatment do not sexually transmit HIV.”
Its website, preventionaccess.org, presents evidence and information. It’s funded by the US charity Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs and is supported by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, AIDS United, Gilead, ViiV Healthcare, Janssen, Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Walgreens.
It’s about time we accepted U=U, removed the stigma of HIV/AIDS, and redoubled our efforts for universal access.