Los Angeles, Calif. -- The National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases (NIAID) at the National Institute of Health (NIH) released the results of a historic study demonstrating the efficacy of treating HIV patients with antiretroviral drugs as a HIV prevention tool.
"As we prepare to commemorate thirty years since the first AIDS case was diagnosed in America, we now have the tools that could end the HIV epidemic as we know it," says Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.
The study involved 1,763 couples in which one partner was HIV negative (not infected). The other partner was HIV positive (infected with HIV). All of the HIV positive participants had a T-cell count between 350 and 550. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group was started on antiretroviral treatment right away while researchers delayed treatment for the other group until the HIV-positive partner's T-cells fell to 250-the recommended time to start antiretroviral therapy for most of the world at the time of the study or until they exhibited symptoms of an AIDS related illness. All participants were given condoms, and provided HIV prevention services.
Twenty eight (28) infections occurred over the duration of the study. Twenty seven (27) of them occurred in the group where treatment was delayed. Only one infection occurred in which the virus was genetically linked to the infected partner in the group where treatment had been started right away. What this means is if a person with HIV is on treatment, according to this study, they are more than 96% less likely to pass on the virus than someone who is not being treated.
"We are at a deciding moment!" says Wilson. "We have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic. The question is whether we have the political will and compassion to make the investment necessary to use these tools."
This study comes on the heels of promising trial findings around vaginal microbicides for women and recent findings around the efficacy of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for men who have sex with men. "The prevention tool box has just exploded." says Wilson. This study definitively ends the debate of prevention versus treatment. Prevention and treatment are inextricably connected. Treatment is prevention!"
In accord with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the Black AIDS Institute calls on Congress and the Obama Administration to do three things: 1. Invest in expanded access to testing and linkages to care 2. Increase access to care for vulnerable communities 3. Raise HIV science and treatment literacy in vulnerable communities
People need to know their HIV status and those who are HIV positive need to be linked to appropriate care immediately. In the face of this study, federal and state governments must address the ongoing funding crisis in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). And we need to finally invest in HIV treatment education in vulnerable communities. The HIV health disparities are growing in the U.S. One of the biggest barriers is the lack of understanding about how the virus works in the body and what treatment options are available.
"Too many of us in the Black community are distracted by myths and misinformation. When we don't understand the science of HIV/AIDS, we are unable to protect ourselves, less willing to get tested, less likely to start treatment, and reluctant to take ownership of the disease or responsibility for ending it in our communities," says Wilson.
In the Black community this includes raising the HIV science literacy, capacity and infrastructure. Regardless of the advances we're making Black people will continue to be left behind if we don't address these deficits. On every level Black people in America are disproportionately impacted by HIV. Black Americans are being infected at a younger age and at higher rates, diagnosed at a later point in their disease and die faster than any other racial ethnic group.