Image: Burnet Institute Head of Public Health, Associate Professor Mark Stoové
On World AIDS Day 2017, Burnet Institute’s Head of Public Health, Associate Professor Mark Stoové, has warmly welcomed the Victorian Government’s official recognition and support for the U=U campaign.
U=U stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable, a message based on more than two decades of accumulated evidence that a person living with HIV who has undetectable viral load does not transmit HIV to their partners.
More than 350 HIV organisations and research bodies from 34 countries, including the International AIDS Society, Burnet Institute, and now the Victorian Government, have endorsed the statement.
“As the first Australian jurisdiction to endorse U=U, we want all Victorians to know that HIV treatment works, that it prevents HIV, and that stigma and discrimination levelled at people living with HIV has no place in Victoria,” Victorian Health Minister The Hon Jill Hennessy told the 2017 World AIDS Day Victorian Community Launch at The Doherty Institute.
Associate Professor Stoové said the Government’s imprimatur would help to boost momentum around U=U as a means to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
“It’s a message that we think is a positive one for reducing HIV related stigma and the perception around a person’s infectivity to other people,” Associate Professor Stoové said.
“Getting the message out there that you are not at risk of contracting HIV from somebody living with HIV who is on treatment and virally suppressed, even by having unprotected sex, that’s really important.
“Obviously condoms are still an important part of the mix in relation to prevention of STIs and HIV, but undetectable viral load is now a key component in our prevention efforts and needs to be positioned that way in the community.”
Associate Professor Stoové said underlying all HIV prevention messaging is the need for regular testing and follow-up treatment for people engaged in practices that put them at risk of HIV.
“We know that in Australia an increasing proportion of HIV is being transmitted by those who don’t know they have the virus, so undetected HIV,” he said.
“Getting regularly tested is crucial to prevention efforts so that people can change their risk behaviours after knowing they have acquired HIV and get onto treatment as early as possible after their infection to reduce their infectiousness to others.”
Burnet is contributing towards improving our HIV testing and treatment responses in Australia via the ACCESS surveillance system, which monitors the HIV cascade of care; the movement of people through their presentations for HIV testing, diagnosis, treatment and viral suppression.
ACCESS has been operating effectively in Victoria and New South Wales in collaboration with The Kirby Institute, but is now being expanded nationally to all states and jurisdictions through Commonwealth Government funding.
“ACCESS provides us with really important information so that we can monitor changes over time around people’s testing events,” Associate Professor Stoové said.
“Are people testing more frequently? Are they being diagnosed in a more timely fashion, and what is the time between people being diagnosed and when they’re virally suppressed?
“By monitoring over time, we’re able to see how we’re going in relation to our targets around these types of indicators, in this case, the ‘ending HIV’ target, and evaluate our efforts to refine or enhance our current interventions."