Research by PDRI’s affiliates Alison Buttenheim, Laura Schmucker, Harsha Thirumurthy, and co-authors on HIV testing in sub-Saharan Africa was featured in Aidsmap.
As men in sub-Saharan Africa test for HIV less often than women, a team led by Dr. Philip Smith of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, wanted to know if men would be encouraged to test more when they knew about the U=U message. The team found that when peer promoters told men that an undetectable viral load means that, if they test positive, they cannot pass the virus to sexual partners, they were more likely to go for HIV testing.
At the time of the study in March 2020, 89% of men living with HIV in South Africa knew their HIV status, of whom 66% were on treatment, and of those 79% had an undetectable viral load. Reasons that men gave for not testing included HIV-related stigma and fear of an HIV-positive result. If more men are to test, something needs to be done to address these fears. This study aimed to do that by telling men of the benefits of testing and of being on antiretroviral treatment (ART).
We know that ART reduces HIV viral load to such low undetectable levels that it cannot be passed to sexual partners. The ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ (U=U) message is powerful and works on several levels: starting ART improves health, removes the risk of passing the virus to others, and therefore can bring peace of mind.