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News + Events

What is U=U?


The evidence is now very clear that if you are taking effective antiviral treatment, and have achieved an undetectable viral load for six months or longer, you cannot transmit HIV to your sexual partners.

In the simplest terms, an “undetectable viral load” means HIV treatments have effectively reduced HIV to such low levels that it is not able to be detected in standard blood tests. When HIV is ‘undetectable’ it cannot be transmitted to others through sexual activity. So effective HIV treatment is effective HIV prevention. This is sometimes called U=U, short for the phrase “Undetectable equals Untransmittable”.

This first made headlines in 2008, in a statement from medical practitioners referred to as the Swiss Statement. Since then, studies have produced evidence from many, many cases of couples from around the world where one partner was living with HIV and the other was not, showing HIV is not transmitted through sex when viral load is not detectable. In 2016, an important study called the PARTNER study found no transmissions of HIV occurred in more than 58,000 cases of sex without condoms between couples of different HIV status.

Having an undetectable viral load also protects your baby during pregnancy and childbirth, taking away a major fear for people living with HIV that they may not be able to have children.
For many people living with HIV, knowing that the science and evidence behind U=U is accepted has been a huge change. People talk about feeling free from the fear of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners. But this news also has the potential to change attitudes towards people living with HIV. For many people with HIV, the experience of stigma — of feeling or being judged, rejected, sexually rejected, or seen as someone who might transmit the virus to others — has been a huge personal burden.

The knowledge that effective treatment of HIV can eliminate the risk of sexual transmission of HIV represents both a new freedom for people living with HIV, but also an enormous opportunity to challenge negative public opinions, discrimination, stigma, and stereotypes about HIV.

Positive Women Victoria — with many of our community partners — are now working to help our members to learn what this change means for people living with HIV, and to change public opinion on HIV transmissions and challenge the stigma around people living with HIV continue to face.