ENDING HIV IS POSSIBLE
Ending HIV might sound like a bit of a pipedream. But it’s not. Here’s why:
Australia’s gay community has been at the frontline against HIV since the beginning: from the community-led safe sex movement in the 1980s, through lobbying for HIV treatments in the 1990s, to the maintenance of safe sex culture ever since. In just over thirty years we’ve gone from “diagnosis = death” to “diagnosis = manageable infection” and for most, the prospect of a pretty normal lifespan.
HIV is no longer a death sentence. We’ve had minimal increases in new HIV infections over the past decade – a big thumbs up for the safe sex practices of most gay men. However, that still means that between 700 and 800 gay men are getting HIV in Australia every year. That is a lot of people who will have to deal with HIV infection for the rest of their lives. That does not need to happen – so we’re launching our biggest strike yet to end HIV.
We’re not alone. The battle to end HIV is an international movement spearheaded by the 2011 UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS which aims to achieve significant reductions in HIV transmission globally by 2015. By the end of the decade we could be well on our way to ending HIV. It’s doable. So let’s do it!
End HIV? Seriously?
More flexible testing options and better access to those options will help gay men test more frequently. A vital part of our strategy to end HIV is early detection, which allows you to look after yourself and your partners.
Early treatment is also critical. We now know that effective treatment can result in an undetectable viral load, which means that levels of HIV in the blood are so reduced that they are not detectable through standard HIV tests.
Undetectable viral load can dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission if sustained over a six month period. If HIV can be detected early in more gay men, and those who need treatment can access it as soon as possible, we’ll dramatically reduce transmission rates and stop new cases of HIV.
What’s new in the fight against HIV?
An HIV vaccine or cure is years away. Despite that, we’re in a better position than ever to end the epidemic.
Rapid HIV testing is now available in specific locations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
New research suggests both health and prevention benefits of treatment. We know that HIV treatments reduce the adverse health impacts of HIV and allow most people with HIV to live a normal life, but a growing number of studies indicate that early treatment also has a dramatic impact on HIV transmission rates at community level. San Francisco’s Test and Treat program appears to have greatly reduced the number of new HIV infections among gay men. The HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) Study 052 also showed treatment uptake delivered significant reductions in HIV transmission (although predominately among heterosexual couples).
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is also on the horizon. It’s a new way of working to prevent HIV and it’s being tested now. PrEP is the use of treatments by HIV negative gay men to prevent transmission. iPrEx (an international study of PrEP in men who have sex with men) found a 44% reduction in transmission overall, and more than 90% reduction (i.e. very similar to condoms) when participants took their pills every day. More PrEP trials are currently underway.
What needs to change?
If we can diagnose HIV early in men who don’t know they’ve been infected and offer them early treatment, we’re not only investing in their future health, we’re also drastically reducing the risk of transmission in the community. Many gay men do test regularly but as a community, we are not testing enough.
All sexually active gay men need to get tested at least twice a year. If you have lots of sexual partners, scheduling quarterly tests each year or even more frequently is important. In addition to your regular tests, you should get tested every time you think there’s a possibility you’ve been exposed to HIV, keeping in mind that an infection can take several weeks to show up.
What else can I do to get on board?
We’re glad you asked … because our prevention revolution starts with you. It’s about gay men joining forces to spread the word about more frequent testing and early treatment. Make a commitment to test more regularly. Talk to your doctor about treatments if you have HIV. Stay safe by using condoms and other risk-reduction strategies.
Join us on Facebook and don’t forget to tell your friends, partners and colleagues to take part. We’re going to reach our goal of ending HIV in Australia’s gay community sooner rather than later … and it starts with you.