For decades, researchers, health professionals, and activists have been working to find a cure for HIV and end the stigma surrounding the virus and people living with HIV. With the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART), people with HIV can live complete and active lives — and, when adhering to appropriate treatment, not spread the virus.
With the introduction of triple-drug antiretrovirals in the mid-1990s, HIV shifted from a largely fatal infection into a manageable chronic condition, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Large studies and research in the last two decades have delivered dramatic results and information that has the power to transform the lives of people living with HIV.
Treatment as Prevention
With the use of antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV can maintain an undetectable viral load — meaning the level of the virus in the blood is so low that a test can’t detect it. With an undetectable viral load, these people cannot transmit HIV. (This is what we mean when we use the phrases “Undetectable = Untransmittable” or the shortened version “U = U.”)
“At Cempa Community Care, we have a 92% viral suppression rate, which means 92% of our patients cannot transmit HIV,” says Mario Forte, PrEP/PEP Navigator at Cempa. “We are able to achieve this high rate of suppression by expanding access to care and ensuring our patients can get the medications they need.”
Undetectable = Untransmittable relies on people living with HIV to commit to taking ART on a daily basis. The longer an individual maintains undetectable status, the more likely he or she is to stay undetectable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to providing medical care and access to ART, the Cempa team provides patients with ongoing support, helping patients remember their medications and maintain viral suppression. The care team at Cempa includes a counselor for adherence and case managers and clinicians who provide additional resources and support to Cempa patients.
“We have a great support system, across departments, to help patients remain compliant with their medications,” says Rachel Inman, Director of Support Services at Cempa. “We provide the full wrap around, from providing the actual medication and offering ways for patients to remember to take them, to reaching out to clients who may have missed appointments.”
Taking Steps to Reduce Transmission
In addition to antiretroviral medications, people who are at risk of HIV exposure, or those who have been recently exposed to HIV, have access to other means of prevention, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) through Cempa.
As the PrEP and PEP navigator at Cempa, Forte works with patients to determine if these specific therapies are appropriate. Beyond PrEP and PEP therapies, though, Forte encourages everyone to know their status and empower themselves with up-to-date information. If you are ready to get tested or are concerned about your exposure risk, Cempa is here to help you navigate those uncertainties.