U=U Turns Five

Fact: A person living with HIV who is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV through sex.

In other words, Undetectable = Untransmittable, or U=U

U=U recently celebrated its fifth birthday. July 21, 2021, marked five years since the launch of the Undetectable Equals Untransmissable Movement by the Prevention Access Campaign. Back in 2016, a group of advocates, activists, and scientists convened to announce that people living with HIV with undetectable viral loads (< 200 copies/mL) cannot sexually transmit HIV. Through their work, they came up with the phrase “Undetectable = Untransmittable” or U=U. If you are a person living with HIV, you can feel confident that if you’re on treatment and your viral loads are undetectable, there is zero chance that you will pass the virus along to your sexual partner(s). 

U=U aligns with Achieving Together’s goals of reducing HIV exposure and transmission, increasing viral suppression, and cultivating a stigma-free climate.

For many people, U=U represents relief and freedom. 

“When I learned about U=U…that was the best day in my life in over 50 years. I lived with so much internal stigma. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. When I learned about U=U, that put the fun back in my life. It allowed me to dream.” –Helen E. Turner

In the words of the Prevention Access Campaign:

U=U offers freedom and hope. For many people living with HIV and their partners, U=U opens up social, sexual, and reproductive choices they never thought would be possible. It is an unprecedented opportunity to transform the lives of people with HIV and the field: 

  • Well-being of people with HIV: Transforms the social, sexual, and reproductive lives of people with HIV by freeing them from the shame and fear of sexual transmission to their partners.
  • HIV stigma: Dismantles the HIV stigma that has been destroying lives and impeding progress in the field since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • Treatment goals: Reduces the anxiety associated with testing, and encourages people living with HIV to start and stay on treatment to stay healthy and prevent transmission.
  • Universal access: Offers a public health argument to increase access and remove barriers to treatment, care, and diagnostics to save lives and prevent new transmissions.

However, the majority of millions of people living with HIV do not know U=U, and many do not have access to the diagnostics, treatment, and care they need to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. There are still confusing messages, outdated websites, and uninformed policymakers and healthcare workers who are not comfortable sharing this information, don’t yet know about it, or don’t yet realize the significance of it. 

Research shows that people living with HIV report better health outcomes when their providers inform them about U=U. The more people know that U=U, the better. There are excellent resources available to help spread the word, including a customizable social media toolkit available at https://positiveseries.org

The folks at Prevention Access Campaign have also compiled a list of frequently asked questions: https://www.preventionaccess.org/faq

What does U=U mean to you?

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