What is U=U and why is it good news for people with HIV?

  4 June 2024  NWMPHN   

In late May, 2024, Australia became only the fourth country in the world to sign on to the Multinational Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) Call-To-Action campaign.

The campaign, which began in 2016, highlights the fact that when a person living with HIV is on effective antiretroviral treatment for HIV, they will reach an ‘undetectable’ viral load and will be unable to transmit the virus to sexual partners.

Australia’s alignment with the U=U campaign was announced by the Hon Mark Butler MP, federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, who said it accorded with the existing evidence-based and community-led approach to HIV management.

The move was welcomed by the Victorian HIV and Hepatitis Integrated Training And Learning (VHHITAL) program, which is led by North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.

NWMPHN lead for the program, Naomi Cooper, said many health care professionals in Victoria had been working under the U=U framework for a few years now. Signing onto the official campaign will give them and people living with HIV increased confidence in managing the virus and living full and healthy lives.

“This is a powerful message for people living with HIV,” she said. “There was a time not so many years ago that HIV was a life-limiting condition, but today, with effective treatment, it need not even be a barrier to health.”

What does Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) mean?

When a person with HIV is on effective treatment, the medication lowers the amount of virus in the blood to such a very low level that it cannot be passed on through sexual activity. However, the virus can still be passed on through other avenues, such as injecting drug use.

The method of measuring the amount of virus in the blood stream is called the HIV RNA quantification test. It is widely available.

Once a person reaches U=U levels, they can stay that way indefinitely – as long as they take their medication as prescribed. Ceasing medication, or taking it irregularly, can cause the viral load to increase again.

Some other medications can also disrupt U=U status, so it is very important for people with HIV to discuss the implications of additional treatments with their health care professional.

For more information on the work of VHHITAL, including education and training opportunities, see this NWMPHN webpage.