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Four Lessons Learned at AIDS 2016

by Noël Gordon July 29, 2016

This month, HRC joined over 18,000 HIV and AIDS activists, advocates and researchers in Durban, South Africa to kick off the 21st International AIDS Conference. While the world has changed dramatically since Durban, South Africa hosted the International AIDS Conference 16 years ago, HIV awareness, research and activism continues around the globe. Here are four important takeaways from AIDS 2016:

  1. There’s now even more proof that people living with HIV cannot transmit the virus if they are virally suppressed. In 2008, the Swiss National AIDS Commission issued a landmark document now referred to as the “Swiss Statement.” In it, the country’s foremost HIV experts concluded that a person living with HIV, who has consistently taken their HIV medication, would be incapable of passing the virus onto a partner. At AIDS 2016, researchers from the PARTNER study agreed. Their study, which began in 2010 and is ongoing, has yet to find a single linked case of HIV transmission among 888 mixed-status couples. The results are even more outstanding considering the researchers have documented more than 50,000 instances of condomless sex since the study first started.
  2. PrEP can work for the people who need it the most. In the U.S., Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) use is on the rise, with at least 60,000-70,000 Americans currently using the regimen. However, uptake has primarily been concentrated among older, white gay men. Two studies presented at AIDS 2016 may hold the key to reaching more diverse populations:
    • PrEP among youth: Sybil Hosek from Stroger Hospital in Chicago presented findings from her research study looking at PrEP use among adolescent gay and bisexual men between the ages of 15-17. Hosek found that daily use of Truvada among the youth was high during the first few months of the study, but that it trailed off once they switched from monthly to quarterly follow-up visits. Hosek also found PrEP to be safe and generally well tolerated by the young men in the study, and that there were no statistically significant increases in reported sexually transmitted infections or condomless sex acts.
    • PrEP among Black gay and bisexual men: Investigators from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 073 study revealed that high uptake of PrEP among young, Black gay and bisexual men is indeed possible if they are provided theory-based, culturally-tailored counseling. HPTN 073 is groundbreaking not only because it answers a public health question that has vexed researchers for years - Can young, Black men who have sex with men successfully use and adhere to PrEP? - but also because it is the first, major study in the U.S. to be led by a research team consisting entirely of Black gay men.
  3. Young women and girls remain heavily impacted by HIV and AIDS, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Starting with a special session entitled “What a Girl Wants,” AIDS 2016 repeatedly emphasized the need to expand HIV prevention and treatment options for young women and girls worldwide. Conference attendees heard promising news concerning vaginal rings and other medical technologies coming down the pipeline, and they learned about the impact of HIV on female sex workers and transgender women in various countries, including South Africa.
  4. Leadership matters. Several A-list celebrities lent voice to the cause at AIDS 2016, including actress Charlize Theron, Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish, and Prince Harry of England. John joined AIDS 2016 to unveil the newest grant recipients of a LGBTQ rapid response fund he created in partnership with PEPFAR. Prince Harry invoked the memory of his mother, Princess Diana, in a well-received speech to HIV activists weeks after he got tested for HIV live on camera.

HRC is committed to working with our allies, partners, members and supporters to end the HIV epidemic and the stigma surrounding HIV. For more information about our work, click here. For other important takeaways from AIDS 2016, click here.


Noël Gordon
Noël Gordon


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