Antiretroviral Therapy Protects Uninfected Partners

stock_couple96% reduction in HIV transmission

Researchers involved in a large multinational study recently announced that men and women with HIV who take antiretroviral drugs have a 96% lower risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. The study results, just published in The New England Journal of Medicine, were hailed by AIDS experts as a game-changer.

Until now, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was known to improve the health of HIV-infected patients, but this is the first randomized clinical trial to show that treating an HIV-infected individual with ART can reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner.

The clinical trial, conducted at 13 sites in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the United States, and Zimbabwe, was scheduled to end in 2015, but the findings were released early because the treatment worked so well.

“This new finding convincingly demonstrates that treating the infected individual—and doing so sooner rather than later—can have a major impact on reducing HIV transmission,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the study funders.

The study, known as HPTN 052, was conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), a global partnership dedicated to reducing the transmission of HIV. The study began in April 2005 and enrolled 1,763 HIV-serodiscordant couples (in which one partner is HIV-infected and the other is not).

The Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI) was part of the trial and enrolled 77 couples. Dr. Max Essex, Principal Investigator for the Botswana arm and Chair of HAI, commented, “The results provide tremendous rationale for our Mochudi Prevention Project now underway that links treatment and prevention efforts. Strategies for scaling up knowledge of HIV status and increasing treatment coverage are critical next steps to realizing the public health benefits of this finding.”

About Martha S Henry

Martha Henry is the Director of Communications for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative.