Today is World AIDS Day and there is much to celebrate reports JODY HOPKINSON.
This year there is much to celebrate in terms of combatting HIV in New Zealand. There has been a scientific breakthrough which could spell the end of the disease locally; the proposed funding of a revolutionary HIV prevention pill; and the launch of an online tool which will help those people living with HIV to live their best lives.
The recently released New Zealand study ‘Opposites Attract’, has found that people living with HIV who are successfully treated can no longer pass HIV on to their sexual partners.
“This is a game changer for HIV prevention,” says New Zealand Aids Foundation (NZAF) Executive Director Dr Jason Myers.
The study analysed results of gay and bisexual men living in relationships where one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative. There was not a single HIV transmission in over 17,000 acts of sex without condoms between HIV positive men with an undetectable HIV viral load and their HIV negative partners.
These results support those of previous studies with similar findings and have organisations such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation supporting the notion that ‘Undetectable equals Untransmittable’ – also known as ‘U=U’.
Also this month PHARMAC has proposed to fund PrEP, a pill that an HIV negative person can take daily to protect themselves from HIV. PHARMAC says the use of PrEP by people at high risk of HIV has seen major reductions in HIV infections overseas, and this would be expected for New Zealand.
“HIV stigma and discrimination remain very real for people living with HIV in New Zealand and the success of HIV treatment in reducing infectiousness, as well as the uptake of PrEP, provides a direct challenge to this,” says Dr Myers.
Also launched this month is a tool to improve communication between people living with HIV and their medical carers.
The Unity Tool was designed by HIV advocacy groups, healthcare providers and GSK/ViiV Healthcare. It is an online questionnaire patients fill out before they go to see their healthcare provider.
Patients answer questions are asked around their general well-being, their emotional, social and family life, work life, sex life and the suitability of their HIV treatment and its effect on their quality of life.
The tool was developed in Europe after a study there showed patients with HIV find it difficult to talk candidly with their GPs, are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and/or anxiety and are affected by a range of barriers to medical treatment.
“Research shows that poor interactions between the two groups has a detrimental effect on a patient’s treatment adherence and quality of life,” says the GSK’s Dr Ian Griffiths.
“There can be a wide range of reasons why people living with HIV may not be able to communicate openly with their doctor face-to-face. The aim of the Unity Tool is to support those Kiwis living with HIV in their conversations with their healthcare providers over especially personal, difficult or troublesome issues which may be worrying them.”