Earlier this year, during the 12th International IAS Conference on HIV Science (IAS) 2023 in Brisbane, Australia, a large campaign was launched in response to the World Health Organisation’s new policy brief on “The role of HIV viral suppression in improving individual health and reducing transmission.” The WHO policy brief clarifies that there’s zero risk of sexual transmission when HIV is undetectable, and it’s time we reinforce the #SayZero message.
According to WHO, people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load using any WHO-approved test and continue taking medication as prescribed have zero risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partner(s). People living with HIV who have a suppressed but detectable viral load and are taking medication as prescribed have “almost zero or negligible risk” of transmitting HIV to their sexual partner(s).
The policy guide is significant because the WHO states in unequivocal language that zero risk of transmitting HIV is attainable through adherence to appropriate HIV treatment. In addition, healthcare staff are encouraged to reinforce the undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U) and zero risk message. It further describes key viral load thresholds and the approaches to measure levels of HIV. The brief will help health providers and policymakers make smart and informed choices about HIV treatment and viral load testing.
“We’re excited to join Y+ Global, Frontline AIDS and PATA to bring the WHO policy brief to life and encourage more folks to #SayZero. The global credibility of the WHO and the certainty of “zero” will encourage more folks to talk about #UequalsU with confidence and clarity. This inspiring video was created by and for young people living with HIV to empower them to live and love to the fullest without worrying about transmission."
Bruce RichmanFounding Executive Director
In order to maintain the momentum of the #SayZero campaign, and just in time for ICASA 2023, Y+Global partnered with the Prevention Access Campaign, FrontlineAIDS, and Paediatric Adolescent Treatment for Africa (PATA) to create an animated video aimed at young people. The video explains the three types of viral load results in a fun, engaging, and easy-to-understand way.
- The Undetectable Level is when the test or sample cannot detect the virus. Having an undetectable result means there is absolutely zero chance of passing the virus to your partner, and the risk of passing it from mother to child is also minimal.
- The Suppressed but detected Level means the virus is in very low quantities (≤1,000 copies/mL), making transmission to your partner almost zero.
- The Unsuppressed Level means the virus is more active, and there is a high risk of becoming ill and transmitting it to others. It is crucial to adhere to treatment to take good care of your health and prevent passing it on to others.
“We are thrilled to partner with PAC, Frontline AIDS and PATA on this exciting and engaging video. One of the biggest barriers to #UequalsU has been the hesitancy to be clear in messaging. The power of #SayZero and the key messages from the WHO policy brief means people living with HIV can move beyond surviving to thriving. We hope this video helps convey that message and that young people use it to their own benefit and advocacy.”
Maximina JokonyaInterim Executive Director of Y+ Global
It is highly recommended for young people and youth-led organisations to use this video for advocacy purposes and to create and distribute related tools to raise awareness about the advantages of antiretroviral therapy (ART), viral suppression and viral load testing. These messages can also help to reduce the stigma associated with HIV. It is important to adhere to ART at all times, and young people should inform their healthcare providers if they forget to take their medication. This is a significant step forward towards health equity, and we must continue to promote clear messaging around U=U that uses celebratory language to describe viral load results and transmission.