HIV-positive people who have suppressed their viral load through antiretroviral therapy (ART) can now enjoy unprotected sex without the fear of infecting their partners, health officials have confirmed.
They said daily usage of ART does not only help an HIV positive patient achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, it avails them the opportunity to have unprotected sex with their HIV-negative partners with no risk of transmitting the virus whether through vaginal or oral sex.
This was confirmed on Monday in Abuja at the official launch of the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign.
The campaign was launched by the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) in collaboration with the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDSnRelief (PEPFAR). The event is in preparation for the World Aids Day 2019 to be celebrated on December 1.
The U=U campaign was launched after four large studies conducted from 2007 to 2016 among thousands of serodiscordant couples who after the studies did not show a single case of sexual HIV transmission from a virally suppressed partner.
This implies that a person living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load does not transmit HIV to their sexual partners.
Viral load is the measurement of the amount of HIV in the body, while undetectable viral load is when someone is on Antiretroviral and the virus level in their body is so low that the standard blood test can not detect it. This becomes untransmittable through sexual intercourse.
The campaign has the potential to reduce stigma toward people living with HIV (PLHIV), including self-stigma; as well as increase demand for Hiv testing and ART, including early initiation of treatment and improve adherence.
The Director-General of NACA, Aliyu Gambo, said Nigeria has been able to gain grounds in controlling the epidemic. He said this was achieved through the collaborative efforts of communities made up of Networks of People Living With or are affected by HIV, women and young people, peer educators, and counsellors.
Mr Gambo said these communities have been working with the government, PEPFAR, Global Funds, and other donor agencies over the last 15 years and have succeeded in reducing HIV prevalence from 4.4 per cent in 2005 to 1.4 per cent in 2018.
While attributing this achievement to the communities, he said achieving epidemic control will require more resources in the form of community time and effort to educate the society, fight stigma and discrimination to improve access to HIV services by every member of a community.
“The efforts of the communities are more than ever needed to ensure that HIV remains on the political agenda and galvanize International and National funding for HIV to ensure the UNAIDS 90:90:90 goals are achieved and sustained,” he said.
The Senior Technical Advisor of the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, Anthony Okwuosah, while speaking with PREMIUM TIMES at the event, said most of the HIV-positive patients have to take one pill per day, which he described as a less pill burden when compared to other ailments like hypertension, diabetes and the likes which require more pills.
He advised continuous drug intake in order not to go back to having a detectable viral load and falling sick as the treatment is not to curb transmission.
“The treatment is primarily for HIV not to progress in your body, not being able to transmit is a very welcome bonus that we now have,” he said.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who was represented by the permanent secretary of the ministry, Segun Adekunle, reiterated the commitment of the federal government in achieving the tasks before the year 2030.
He disclosed that the federal government has approved the release of N2.5 billion for the procurement of drugs and other necessities for HIV/AIDS patients.
He said the government is also taking up the treatment of an additional 50,000 patients, making the total number of the patient being treated 100,000.