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Australian doctors to tell HIV patients that ‘undetectable = untransmittable’

Australian doctors to tell HIV patients that ‘undetectable = untransmittable’

a group of people standing in a room behind a banner reading u=u, they are all smiling

As more scientific evidence comes out proving that people living with HIV (PLHIV) who have undetectable viral loads cannot transmit HIV to sexual partners, Australian doctors will now reinforce that message to their patients.

In what has been seen as major win for HIV advocates, the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) has released a guide to help doctors understand the ‘Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U)’ campaign.

ASHM is the leading body for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmissible infections (STI).

Major studies have shown that PLHIV cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners if their viral loads are at an ‘undetectable’ level.

ASHM has just released a clinical guide on the topic to help healthcare workers better understand U=U so that they can better inform their patients.

‘This is a global first in the HIV response plugging a crucial gap in guidance for clinicians who need to better informed but also properly guided to give accurate and evidence-based information to their patients,’ said Scott McGill, director of Programs at ASHM.

‘There was keen interest from a number of countries from Canada to Zimbabwe who also talked about similar issues that clinicians in those settings faced.’

ASHM unveiled the guide at an AIDS 2018 pre-conference in Amsterdam. AIDS2018 is a biennial conference and the world’s largest conference on HIV.

‘The implications of U=U are highly significant. For so long, being HIV positive has carried stigma, stemming largely from the person with HIV being perceived as a risk to others,’ the guide read.

This is huge, Australia. Every HIV doctor in Aus will be guided to tell people living with HIV that there is ZERO risk of them passing on the virus. #UEQUALSU #UUAIDS2018 #AIDS2018 https://t.co/12AKuhKzoX

Bruce Richman, founder of the Prevention Access Committee, said U=U was critical for ending HIV stigma.

‘These guidelines are excellent. Australia is setting the pace for other nations to follow. This is a major advance, not only for what it means about the central role played by people with HIV in ending new HIV transmissions, but also because of the major, consequent affect it has on HIV stigma,’ he said.

‘The campaign message of U=U is helping reduce fear and prejudice that underpin HIV-related stigma.’

This will change lives

ASHM said that U=U was an unprecedented opportunity to transform the lives of PLHIV.

‘An understanding of U=U can go a long way to alleviating HIV transmission-related anxiety. It can empower people with HIV to be comfortable in the totality of who they are and have a greater confidence to pursue a full sex life,’ it said.

PLHIV are most likely to approach healthcare professionals with questions about HIV. That’s why the new guide is so important, according to ASHM.

‘Clinicians are likely the first professionals with whom a newly-diagnosed person will be able to safely speak,’ ASHM said.

‘Amidst the understandable fear and concern they may experience, the message of U=U is crucial. This will be particularly so if it gives people with HIV the confidence to disclose their status. It can help substantially address any already existing HIV-related stigma.’

Zero risk equals zero excuses

HIV peer advocacy and support group, TIM (The Institute of Many) played a critical role in promoting U=U.

‘TIM is incredibly excited to see these new U=U guidelines from ASHM,’ TIM co-founder, Nic Holas, told Gay Star News.

‘Now, every HIV doctor in Australia will be guided to deliver the most up-to-date information to people living with, and at risk of contracting, HIV.

‘TIM believes that zero risk equals zero excuses. It’s incredibly encouraging to know that we have the leading body representing HIV clinicians in our corner.’