Study shows regular treatment prevents HIV transmission in MSM

A landmark study has confirmed that HIV-positive gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who are on effective treatment do not transmit the virus through sexual intercourse.

The 8-year study involved 1,000 monogamous gay couples in Europe in which one partner was HIV positive and on treatment that suppressed the virus. Research showed that over the course of these years the couples had sex 77,000 times and in each case there were zero instances of infections between the HIV positive and the HIV negative partners.

Published in the Lancet, the PARTNER2 study has been described as “conclusive” in showing that effective treatment could ultimately end the HIV epidemic.

“Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART is zero,” said lead author, Prof Alison Rodger of UCL Institute for Global Health.

Researchers said that they had prevented an estimated 472 HIV transmissions in the couples based on the type and frequency of sexual contact.  The results showed that antiretroviral treatment (ART) is just as effective for gay couples as it is for heterosexual couples, which was proved in an earlier phase of the study. 

“Our findings support the message of the international U=U campaign, that a suppressed viral load makes HIV untransmittable. This message has been endorsed by more than 780 HIV organisations in 96 countries and can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face,” said Rodger.

“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load”.

Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust said that they cannot overstate the importance of these findings. 

“The PARTNER study has given us the confidence to say, without doubt, that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners,” commented Brady.

Adding, “This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma”.