The founder of global HIV treatment and prevention movement U=U, Bruce Richman, has said that understanding “undetectable equals untransmissible” is key to reducing HIV transmissions and stigma in Australia.

U=U is a global movement promoting the proven science that shows passing on HIV is impossible for people who have a sustained, undetectable viral load (UVL) through effective treatment for HIV.

In time for Mardi Gras, Richman is visiting as part of an Australia-first campaign aiming to empower people living with HIV and their allies, partners and potential partners to feel more confident about the science of U=U by putting a human face on the issue.

“The message of U=U, that undetectable equals untransmissible, has already made a remarkable difference in the United States and around the world to people living with HIV and their partners,” said Richman.

“Understanding U=U is critical for preventing HIV, and an unprecedented opportunity to dismantle the stigma faced by people living with HIV.”

U=U is part of a shift in HIV prevention in the past few years towards “biomedical” approaches, including UVL and pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP), which involves HIV-negative people taking a daily pill to prevent them contracting HIV.

Earlier this month, PrEP was approved for listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning Australians will have access to subsidised PrEP later this year.

HIV advocate Nic Holas of The Institute of Many has spearheaded the Australian U=U campaign, which features the faces and stories of both HIV-negative and HIV-positive people and their experiences with UVL.

The video series titled “In bed with U=U” provides a glimpse into how U=U has changed HIV prevention and sex for people living with HIV as well as HIV-negative people.

The campaign is being rolled out in time for Mardi Gras in Sydney.

“This Mardi Gras we’re expecting to see a lot of talk about sexual health, but we need to remember HIV prevention is about more than just PrEP,” said Holas.

“U=U puts people living with HIV front and centre when it comes to protecting our communities.

“The amazing people who have put their faces to the campaign show us that U=U can mean sex, intimacy and connection without the shame and fear of HIV stigma.”

Richman said both PrEP and UVL are important in the fight against new HIV transmissions.

“It’s fantastic that Australians will soon have access to subsidised PrEP, and it’s also important to remember that people living with HIV play a vital role in HIV prevention just by taking the medication we take every day to stay healthy,” he said.

Mark, a half-Mauritian and half-Asian queer man from Melbourne who is both HIV-negative and on PrEP, believes U=U makes a huge difference.

“For me, great sex is free from worry – it’s abandonment,” he said.

“U=U levels the playing field for HIV-negative people and people living with HIV, and understanding each other means greater connection and intimacy.”

Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, reiterated the science supporting the U=U campaign.

‘’The science behind U=U is overwhelming. Having an undetectable viral load now means you can’t transmit the virus through sex,” said Lewin.

“It sounds so simple but took a long time for researchers to be able to prove this—but what a wonderfully liberating finding U=U is for everyone living with HIV.”

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