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U=U: Ending stigma and empowering people living with HIV

Today, about 1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Every year, almost 40,000 people are diagnosed with HIV. A diagnosis of HIV was once presumed to be fatal, and many lived in fear of transmitting the virus to others. This contributed to decades of stigma for those living with HIV.

What is the U=U campaign?

U=U means “undetectable equals untransmittable.” More specifically, it means that people living with HIV who have an undetectable level of virus in their blood due to treatment are unable to transmit the virus to others.

The U=U campaign hopes to spread awareness that medications for HIV are extremely effective. If you are a person living with HIV and the virus level in your blood is suppressed by effective treatment, you cannot pass on the virus to others.

This campaign was launched after three large studies on sexual transmission of HIV were performed in thousands of serodiscordant couples (meaning one partner was living with HIV and the other was not). Not a single case of HIV was transmitted from someone who was virally suppressed to his or her HIV-negative partner (see here, here, and here for the studies).

Remarkably, this held true for all people living with HIV, including heterosexual women, heterosexual men, and men who have sex with men. It represents a dramatic shift from decades of fear experienced by those living with HIV. Now, people living with HIV can live long, healthy lives with no chance of passing on the virus to others if they are on appropriate treatment.

What does it mean for HIV to be undetectable?

The amount of the virus found in the blood is known as the HIV viral load. Research shows that having high levels of virus in the blood is associated with a greater risk that people will transmit the virus to others.

If you have HIV, taking medication every day as directed by your healthcare provider helps to suppress the HIV viral load and keep it su

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Written by Shobha


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