UN agencies hail trial results showing anti-HIV drugs prevent transmission

A health worker counselling women about HIV/AIDS treatment

12 May 2011 – United Nations agencies fighting HIV/AIDS today lauded the results of an international study that shows that if an HIV-positive person immediately follows an appropriate treatment of anti-retroviral drugs, the risk of transmitting the virus to an uninfected sexual partner is nearly entirely eliminated.

The trial, conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, tracked more than 1,700 couples across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States and found that the risk of infection fell by 96 per cent.

The reduction in risk was so large that the trial was stopped some three to four years ahead of schedule.

“This breakthrough is a serious game changer,” said Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who added that “now we need to make sure that couples have the option to choose treatment for prevention and have access to it.”

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), described the results of the study as “a crucial development, because we know that sexual transmission accounts for about 80 per cent of all new infections.”

UNAIDS said it will convene a meeting with other key organizations tackling the scourge of AIDS to discuss the trial and its implications for the response to the disease. In July, WHO is also releasing new guidance to assist HIV-positive people to protect their partners.

The two agencies stressed the need for couples to make evidence-based decisions on which combination of HIV prevention options is best for them, and that anti-retroviral therapy serve as one of the options made available.

“No single method is fully protective against HIV,” the agencies said in a joint press statement. “Treatment for prevention [anti-retroviral therapy] needs to be used in combination with other HIV prevention options. These include correct and consistent use of male and female condoms, waiting longer before having sex for the first time, having fewer partners, male circumcision, and avoiding penetrative sex.”

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