A landmark study co-led by a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital has found that HIV postive men taking antiviral drugs have no chance of passing the virus on to their partners.

Professor Alison Rodger, consultant in infectious disease and HIV and director of public health at the Royal Free London, was the lead author of the study, PARTNER2, which was published in The Lancet.

The eight-year study of nearly 1,000 gay couples in Europe, including several patients recruited at the Royal Free Hospital’s Ian Charleson Day Centre, found there were no HIV transmissions between gay couples where one partner was HIV negative and the other positive and on effective treatment. The previous phase of the study (PARTNER1) was published in JAMA in 2016 and found the same result for heterosexual couples. 

The results from the study, which was funded in both phases by the NIHR through grants held at the Royal Free London, showed that antiretroviral treatment is just as effective for gay couples, as it is for heterosexual couples, which was proved in an earlier phase of the study. This is important because anal sex is at higher risk for HIV transmission compared to vaginal sex.

Prof Rodger said: “This provides conclusive evidence that if an HIV positive person is on effective treatment they are sexually non infectious. This should normalise how being HIV positive is seen. The latest phase of the study frees HIV positive men from any worry or concerns around potential HIV transmission.

“The evidence supports the message of the international U=U campaign, that if the virus is suppressed by drugs, it makes HIV untransmittable.

“This message has been endorsed by more than 780 HIV organisations in 96 countries and can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face.

“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load.”

Prof Rodger added: “I’d also like to thank research nurse, Janey Sewell, and nurse practitioner, Tom Fernandez, who were the driving force in patient recruitment here at the Royal Free Hospital.”

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of these findings.

“The PARTNER study has given us the confidence to say, without doubt, that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.

“This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma”

The study was led by UCL and the University of Copenhagen.