By: AMSA’s AIDS Advocacy Network
In a landmark letter from Dr. Eugene McCray, MD, Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have affirmed what many in the HIV community have long known is supported by evidence– that people living with HIV whose viral load is undetectable while taking antiretroviral therapy daily as prescribed have “effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.”
The CDC affirmation comes as welcome news for People Living with HIV (PLWH) and HIV advocates working to destigmatize the disease in order to realize an AIDS-free generation in the near future. These groups recognize that providing treatment to PLWH has dual core goals: maintaining or restoring the immune system of someone living with HIV and preventing further transmission of the virus. With the powerful observation that undetectable viral loads essentially eliminate transmission risk in their toolkits, public health and HIV care providers can see an end to the epidemic through treating all those that need it promptly and efficiently.
As future health care providers, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) celebrates this hallmark advancement in policy stance for the nation’s premier public health agency. As a global leader in treating and preventing morbidity and mortality, the CDC plays an important role in setting national public health priorities. Recognizing that undetectable equals untransmissable (U=U) will usher in a new era of treatment as prevention in the fight against HIV.
AMSA’s AIDS Advocacy Network (AAN), a group of student AIDS activists at schools across the nation, was thrilled at the news. “I am proud community discussions are moving forward by talking about the low risks of having an undetectable viral load,” says Avanthi Jayaweera, National Steering Committee Co-Chair for AMSA AAN and third-year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “So many of our patients have come to our clinics worried that they would spread the disease to their partners when, in fact, studies have shown that partners of patients on antiretroviral therapy with undetectable viral loads have maintained their seronegative status.”
As future doctors and public health leaders, AMSA AAN members recognize the importance of treatment not only for their current patients, but also for eradicating AIDS for future generations. “With the preventative benefits of antiretroviral treatment and other existing technologies, an end to AIDS is possible,” says Daniel H. Gouger, MD, AMSA Education and Advocacy Fellow, as he reflects on his heartbreaking experience delivering anesthesia for a 31-year-old patient with AIDS who underwent complete dental extraction surgery for severe oral Kaposi’s sarcoma. “AMSA will continue to stand along side PLWH and AIDS activists to ensure that the next generation of physicians will never again see a case of AIDS,” he continues, “because, at this point, anything less is unacceptable.”
The AIDS Advocacy Network (AAN) is health professional students dedicated to creating a national network focused on advocating for the fight against the global AIDS pandemic, led by co-chairs Avanthi Jayaweera and Shima Ge. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.