Posted on June 5th, 2011 No comments
Treatment as Prevention
Protecting patient autonomy
Patient autonomy is just a particular instance of individual autonomy, a term that may sound pretty dry and academic but if we used the term individual freedom we would essentially be talking about the same thing.
Respect for the autonomy of the individual may be the most important of the principles that form the foundation of medical ethics. (1)
One attribute of personal autonomy is: “the capacity to be one’s own person, to live one’s life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one’s own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces.” (2)
There is no disagreement about the importance of respect for individual autonomy but as I’ll explain, it seems that its pre-eminence is being questioned in some proposals to use antiretroviral treatment to prevent transmission of HIV.
The recent demonstration that antiretroviral treatment can prevent transmission of HIV among serodiscordant heterosexual couples is great news. However, when the person offered treatment has not yet been shown to personally benefit from it, an ethical issue needs to be addressed. It has not yet been reliably demonstrated that for people with greater than 350 CD4 lymphocytes, starting treatment immediately rather than deferring it confers a net benefit; indeed, it may even prove to be harmful. A randomized controlled trial now enrolling will provide needed information, but we will have to wait several years for its results.
The issue isn’t whether or not people with greater than 350 CD4 lymphocytes should receive treatment. A respect for their autonomy requires that the decision whether or not to do so is made by them and is made free from coercion.
A recent issue of the Journal, Public Health Ethics (3) is devoted to ethical issues associated with the proposal that a program of universal testing and treatment of infected individuals could bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Such a proposal would involve the treatment of healthier HIV infected individuals not at this time known to personally benefit from antiviral medications which could even harm them.
In an article in the journal referred to above, public health ethics is said to require an approach where respect for individual autonomy is not paramount; a commitment to the supremacy of individual autonomy could have no place where the “primacy of collective wellbeing is the starting point”.
In that case I wonder just how desirable a collective wellbeing would be where individual rights were subservient to whatever was defined as the collective good.
I can only hope that this goes nowhere, as abandoning the pre-eminence of respect for individual autonomy opens the door to tyranny, paternalistic or otherwise. Individual freedoms have been hard won, and we should always be aware of harms that have been perpetrated in the name of the public good, even leaving alone the problem of who defines what constitutes the public good.
In public health, medical research and medical practice, concern for individual autonomy remains paramount. The only commonly agreed acceptable exemption is the restriction of personal freedoms to prevent harm to others such as limiting the movement of individuals with highly communicable diseases where the harm that may be done to others is considerable. That is, outside the criminal justice system, among individuals who are free.
People have the right to make decisions about their treatment, their participation in a research study, or in a public health intervention, free from coercion.
Providing misleading information is a form of coercion; withholding information may also be coercive.
Providers of health care have an obligation to provide patients with honest information to inform their decisions. This must include information about what is known about the risks and benefits of treatment, as well as what remains conjectural.
Information and the strength of the evidence upon which it rests:
It’s not enough to simply provide individuals with information concerning the benefits and risks of a particular treatment. In order for the information to be useful we must also indicate the strength of the evidence on which the information rests. (4)
The most reliable evidence regarding the effects of a particular treatment is provided by results of randomized controlled clinical trials. This is because the treatment in question has been put to the test in a protocol that minimizes bias; we can therefore have a greater degree of confidence that effects observed are in fact caused by the treatment.
Unfortunately information derived from randomized controlled trials is often unavailable. The clinical trial may not yet have been completed, or for whatever reasons the trial cannot be undertaken.
When this is the case we have to consider evidence of inferior quality, for example, evidence derived from reviews of patient records or observational studies, and the opinion of experts.
Observational studies are beset with interpretative difficulties because subjects are not randomly assigned to receive one or another kind of intervention. The particular reasons why participants were selected for study may influence the outcome rather than the effects of the intervention.
In all the systems I have seen that grade the quality of different kinds of evidence, expert opinion is at the bottom of the list. But expert opinion can be valuable to an individual in coming to a treatment decision when evidence of the highest quality is not available.
Respect for patient autonomy means that patients make their own decisions free from coercion. As noted, supplying misleading information is a form of coercion. To state that something is known to be the case, when it is only an opinion is misleading.
HPTN 052 is the study which demonstrated the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment in preventing transmission of HIV among serodiscordant heterosexual couples. Although the result was not unexpected it is nonetheless significant because it was obtained from a randomized controlled clinical trial.
We now know that the uninfected partners of individuals with greater than 350 CD4 lymphocytes will benefit from treatment of the HIV positive partner. At this time we can only have an opinion about whether starting treatment immediately or deferring it will benefit or harm the infected partner with greater than 350 CD4s or be without effect – apart from cost.
Most of the jubilant reports of the results of HPTN 052 do not mention the problem facing the healthier HIV positive partner in coming to a decision. Do the commentators just assume that it’s been established that all infected individuals receive a net benefit from treatment irrespective of CD4 numbers? Or do they not believe it to be important that patients make their own decisions regarding their treatment?
I wish I could say I was startled to read in one newsletter that “For treatment as prevention to work….. people need to be convinced that early treatment is in their interest.”
Convincing people to take a possibly perilous course of action based merely on opinion and evidence of inferior quality is a step on a road that ends with enforcement.
A respect for individual autonomy means that we respect the right of individuals to make decisions on their own behalf, free from even subtle coercion. Our obligation as providers of health care information is to not only provide information, but also an indication of the quality of the evidence supporting it.
At this time we do not know that individuals with greater than 350 CD4 lymphocytes receive a net benefit from antiviral treatment. There is evidence that they may, but until this is put to the test in a randomized controlled trial such as START, we must not mislead them by trying to convince them that “early treatment is in their interest”.
Given adequate information, a person with greater than 500 CD4 lymphocytes may reasonably decide to take antiretroviral drugs to lessen the risk of infecting a partner even knowing that there may be no personal benefit or that there is a possibility of harm.
At the end of the day what’s of central importance is that we respect our patient’s right to make choices about his or her treatment, and provide honest information to inform that choice, recognizing the difference between expert opinion and established fact.
(1) Ever since Beauchamp and Childress published the first edition of their classic text, Principles of Biomedical Ethics, in 1979 it’s been commonly accepted that beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice and respect for autonomy, are four principles that should guide medical ethics.
The Four Principles are general guides:
Respect for autonomy: respecting the decision-making capacities of autonomous persons; enabling individuals to make reasoned informed choices.
Beneficence: this considers the balancing of benefits of treatment against the risks and costs; the healthcare professional should act in a way that benefits the patient
Non maleficence: avoiding the causation of harm; the healthcare professional should not harm the patient. All treatment involves some harm, even if minimal, but the harm should not be disproportionate to the benefits of treatment.
Justice: distributing benefits, risks and costs fairly; the notion that patients in similar positions should be treated in a similar manner.
Beauchamp and Childress; Principles Biomedical Ethics, OUP, 5th edition
(2) Christman, J, 2001″Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2007 Edition) , Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2007/entries/autonomy-moral/>.
(4) Several systems have been devised to grade the quality of evidence.For example: http://www.cebm.net/index.aspx?o=1025 The GRADE working group has been working on assessing the quality of evidence since 2000. http://www.gradeworkinggroup.org/index.htm
Posted on March 4th, 2010 No comments
“Treatment as prevention” is in the news again as part of the media coverage of two conferences in California this month where claims were again made that treatment of virtually all HIV infected individuals could bring an end to the AIDS epidemic.
“Research shows that treatment could end the epidemic in thirty years” is typical of the headlines that enthusiastically announced this proposal to test and treat everybody found to be infected. Sadly, most of the reports I saw failed to comment on the huge practical difficulties that will need to be overcome to make such a project feasible. All ignored a probably insuperable ethical obstacle that will have to be confronted, which may well make the project completely unworkable. Added to these difficulties is the lack of agreement on the soundness of the mathematical model on which the proposal is based.
This initiative is also described as “treatment as prevention” although I also saw the term “seek, test and treat” used.
The prevention in “treatment as prevention” results from the reduced ability to transmit HIV that results from treatment with antiviral drugs.
It’s important to note that “treatment as prevention” can refer to two very different situations where infectivity is reduced by treatment. It describes the mathematical model, noted above that was published about a year ago in the Lancet, an influential weekly medical journal, which claims that the AIDS epidemic could be eliminated with regular tests for HIV and the immediate commencement of antiviral treatment of all who are infected. This is the title of the article: “Universal voluntary HIV testing with immediate antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for elimination of HIV transmission: a mathematical model “ (Reuben Granich and colleagues. Lancet 2009 373: 7).
Antiviral therapy according to this model would be given to all infected individuals whether or not the individual needs treatment. It would include lifelong treatment of healthier HIV infected people who have not been shown to benefit from it, such as those with more intact immune systems as well as those fortunate individuals whose disease does not progress. This is the root of the ethical problem; people who themselves are not known to benefit from treatment will be asked to receive it for a societal benefit. The benefits of treatment to such individuals are conjectural but as the drugs are not free from adverse effects, the risks are real. Unlike individuals with more advanced disease where the benefits of treatment vastly outweigh the risks, this cannot be known in the case of healthier HIV infected individuals.
This is very different to the analysis of the reduction in transmission of HIV that results from treating only those HIV infected individuals known to benefit from antiviral drugs. This is also referred to as “treatment as prevention” but unfortunately in none of the reports I saw was the distinction made between treatment only of those who benefit from it and treatment of all infected individuals. These two very different meanings of “treatment as prevention” were almost always conflated by commentators which could quite easily convey a mistaken impression that all HIV infected individuals are known to benefit from treatment.
Treatment must always be voluntary. But a voluntary decision to receive treatment does not mean a great deal if it is uninformed. The decision can most certainly seen to be coerced if misinformation is supplied. HIV infected individuals must be clearly informed about the risks and benefits of the intervention. As already noted, for individuals with more advanced disease, treatment without question provides a net benefit, but this is not known to be the case for HIV infected individuals with more intact immune systems. There are suggestions that HIV infection may be associated with morbidity resulting from inflammatory reactions. It is far from firmly established if this is indeed the case and if it is, whether it is an inevitable or even common consequence of HIV infection, or if it can be prevented or treated with antiviral drugs. It may also prove to be true that, as claimed by some investigators, the newer antiviral drugs are less toxic than the older ones. But the full range of their effects, particularly their longer term effects cannot be yet known. HIV disease can manifest in so many different ways that sorting out what is a drug effect from what is an effect of the infection itself may take a long time.
For healthier HIV infected individuals, the benefits of treatment remain conjectural as long as clinical trials have not been completed that are designed to provide a reliable answer to the question of when in the course of HIV disease it is best to start treatment. Quite remarkably, about fifteen years after potent antiviral drugs became available no such trial has been completed.
If a decision about whether or not to receive treatment is fully informed, healthier HIV infected individuals faced with an intervention that is accompanied with very real risks but only conjectural benefits may well choose to remain untreated, at least at that particular time in the course of their disease. The purpose of treatment is to reduce infectivity to others, but many might feel that this can be achieved with greater safety, and even possibly with greater reliability, by the use of condoms. It should be said though that those researchers who point out the prevention benefits of treatment do not suggest that treatment is an alternative to condoms. On the contrary they recommend that treated individuals continue to use condoms.
Since the objective of treating all infected people is to end the epidemic, this can only be achieved if a large percentage of infected people receive treatment. But faced with a consent form clearly stating what is known about risks and benefits, it is most unlikely that enough healthier HIV infected people will agree to receive treatment. This is but one reason that if a decision to start treatment is properly informed the project is unlikely to enrol enough individuals to achieve its objective. A danger is that treatment of healthier HIV infected people may be claimed to have a net benefit with greater confidence than is warranted with information we presently have. To succeed, the project also requires a lifetime of adherence to the treatment regimen. When drugs are taken without confidence that they are of personal benefit, we cannot know how adherence to the regimen will play out. Failures in this respect will not only diminish the chances that the project will succeed, they can also result in the emergence of drug resistant strains of HIV which then could limit treatment options when treatment is needed.
There evidently is a belief that all HIV infected individuals, no matter the stage of disease will benefit from treatment. But this remains just that, a belief, as long as there is no firm evidence to support it. The evidence there is that healthier HIV infected individuals would receive a net benefit from treatment is of inferior quality, and therefore remains insecure. It comes from some retrospective observational studies. In such studies medical records are analyzed to compare outcomes in individuals who started treatment earlier with those who started later. Such studies however are beset with interpretative difficulties. Because individuals were not randomly assigned to start treatment early or later, a particular outcome, say improved survival of those starting treatment early, may result from whatever the reasons were that treatment was started at a particular time.
The great benefit of randomly assigning individuals to receive one treatment or another when two are compared is the elimination of interpretative problems that arise when one or the other course of action is chosen.
The problem of such confounding factors was also discussed in a previous post: http://aidsperspective.net/blog/?p=75
HIV infected individuals and those who advise them surely deserve more reliable evidence to support a decision whether to start or defer treatment than that provided by retrospective observational studies or worse, by mere belief.
Prospective randomized trials remain the best way to achieve this. They minimize bias, and thus misinterpretation, and remain the most reliable way to resolve uncertainty. There is no getting over this. Such trials may be expensive, and last a long time, but in the end, probably more time and money is lost by repeating inconclusive and conflicting retrospective studies. Surely we need to know, and not guess when it is best to start treatment.
START is a large clinical trial designed to provide an answer to the question of whether it is best to start treatment early or to defer it. Another casualty of the pursuit of treatment as prevention that aims to treat all infected individuals is enrolment in START which may become more difficult. Those promoting treatment of all infected individuals as prevention must evidently feel that they already know the answer to be that an early start is best. How can this belief be reconciled with a respect for evidence based medicine that many of same experts claim to have?
We should rather concentrate our efforts on providing treatment to all HIV positive individuals who are at a stage in their disease where treatment is of unquestionable benefit. The fact that treatment reduces their infectivity to others is an added powerful argument to encourage widespread testing. An additional benefit is that people who know their HIV status are more likely to take steps to prevent infection of others.
The proposal to treat every infected person as a prevention strategy can be criticized on many levels. I have focussed here on the difficulty that arises from including the treatment of individuals not known to benefit from it. This can usefully be linked to support for and encouragement of enrolment in START.
The lack of concern for the ethical problem that arises from treating people not known to benefit from it is puzzling. A headline on the front page of the UK Independent newspaper reporting on the proposal to treat all infected people states: “AIDS: is the end in sight?” The report quotes the opinion of one scientist that “the problem is that we are using the drugs to save lives, but we are not using them to stop transmission” This statement is quite remarkable. The real problem arises when we administer drugs that can have adverse effects to people for any reason other than for their benefit. We can only ask individuals to agree to take risks for a societal benefit if we have good reasons to believe that the endeavour has a good chance of success – in this case the grandiose one of ending the epidemic. For reasons outlined above we cannot provide any confidence that this will be so. At any rate many may feel that their societal concerns can be more safely met by using condoms, a proven way to reduce transmission of HIV.
I also wrote about this issue for the magazine POZ about a month ago. It can be seen by following this link. http://blogs.poz.com/joseph /archives/2010/02/treatment_of_hiv_dis.html
I also commented on this issue about a year ago. http://aidsperspective.net/blog/?p=152 This post repeats several points that were made then.
Posted on May 18th, 2009 2 comments
I’m returning to this topic yet again because the French National Commission on HIV/AIDS has now published a statement on treatment as prevention.
This document discusses treatment as prevention at the individual and the population level together.
It places great importance on individual autonomy, which includes the fundamental right individuals have to make decisions on their own behalf. I have come to see the issues in a somewhat different way after reading the French document.
This document can be seen here:
It is worth mentioning again that the term “treatment as prevention” can be applied to two different situations.
At an individual level it refers to prevention of HIV transmission by sexual contact between two individuals. The Swiss statement concentrated on this aspect.
The term is also applied at a population level, where the goal of treatment as prevention is the control of the epidemic, even as suggested by some, a means to end it.
The principle underlying the proposals to use treatment as prevention in both of these situations is the same. It is the reduction in infectivity that results from the effect of antiretroviral therapy.
Unlike the Swiss recommendations that dealt only with transmission between two individuals, the French statement deals with both aspects.
Treatment as prevention is not the same when applied to individuals as opposed to populations. For example, transmission between some individuals may be interrupted by treatment without having an effect on the epidemic.
To have an impact on the epidemic additional factors that do not apply at an individual level have to be considered.
For example, the number of infected people who must be treated in relation to the total number of people who are infected must be taken into account, if treatment is to have an effect on the epidemic.
For treatment as prevention to have a greater effect on the epidemic, a larger proportion of infected people must be treated.
Canadian studies have suggested that the proportion of infected people who must be treated in order to reduce transmission would need to be increased from 50% to 75%. Transmission would be slowed but not reversed with treatment rates below 50%.
Thus the percentage of infected people who are treated is related to the extent of the impact treatment will have on the epidemic.
At an extreme, if the stated objective is to end the epidemic, as has been proposed by some, the proportion of infected people who would need to be treated would be so large that it would have to include those who do not need treatment for their own benefit.
[ Added October 3, 2010: It appears that there are experts who believe that everybody who is HIV infected, no matter at what stage of their disease would benefit from treatment. For them, there would be no ethical problem at al. These experts believe that treatment benefits every HIV infected individual. But the practice of medicine is not a faith-based enterprise, although I imagine individuals holding this belief probably pay lip service to evidence-based medicine. As opposed to a belief that everyone will benefit from treatment there is no evidence of the best quality that for people with greater than 350 CD4 lymphocytes, the benefits of antiviral drugs will outweigh their risks. Hopefully the START trial will provide the evidence needed to help HIV infected individuals and their health care providers make a decision as to when it’s best to start treatment, that will be informed with hard evidence rather than belief based interpretations of data. The San Francisco Department of Public Health now recommends that all HIV infected individuals receive treatment. so they are able to avoid having to deal with the ethical problem that arises in recommending treatment to people not known to derive a net benefit from doing so as they too rely on their belief that all benefit. For individuals starting treatment at higher CD4 numbers the harms caused by the drugs may outweigh their benefits. Such individuals may choose to receive treatment in order to make them less infectious, but surely respect for their autonomy means that we must provide them with evidence of the best quality so that their choice is informed, and this also means that where the best evidence is not yet available on when it’s best to start treatment we must tell them that this is the case. The concern expressed last May about the threat of coercion may have been justified in the light of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s recommendations. While it is perfectly legitimate and even expected of them, health care providers make recommendations based on their judgement, which in turn depends on the knowledge and experience they have. This is why we turn to experts. But their respect for individual autonomy really requires that where evidence of the best quality does not yet exist to justify their recommendation, and where there is no expert consensus on the issue, that these facts be told to the individual. A failure to do so in making the recommendation, can be seen as being coercive. Consenting to the recommendation will not be fully informed, and in this way the individual’s autonomy is not respected.]
I have written about the multitude of problems arising from this situation in previous posts on this topic. Lurking behind such an extreme proposal is the threat of coercion, and the possibility of an infringement of individual rights. Very disappointingly this aspect has been barely acknowledged in English language discussions of treatment as prevention.
However if, as I believe, an additional goal of treating infected people is to add a powerful tool to prevent transmission, we are then not stating an objective that would require the participation of individuals who do not themselves need treatment.
Admittedly, treating only those who need to be treated may not have such a great impact as also treating additional infected people who do not need treatment. Therefore we must also intensify and improve our efforts at targeted prevention education with the promotion of condom use.
But we will avoid the insuperable problems and threats to personal autonomy associated with treating individuals who do not need to be treated for their own benefit.
The goal of treatment as prevention as applied to controlling the epidemic is perhaps better stated in a different way.
It might be preferable to simply state that the goal is to provide treatment to every individual who needs it. This goal must therefore be coupled with enhanced efforts to facilitate regular testing.
If we can achieve this it is likely that not only will the individual benefit, but there will be an impact on the extent of the epidemic.
There is evidence of a reduction in HIV transmission in areas where antiretroviral treatment has been introduced. .
When we emphasize that our efforts are to identify infected individuals and make treatment available to all who need it, we eliminate all the problems connected with treating infected individuals who do not need treatment.
One reason why the French document is so significant is that it stresses the importance of individual autonomy.
It emphasizes the need to respect individual rights and adds a caution to avoid the temptation to employ coercive measures in the name of the public good. Testing is the key to any success of this approach to prevention, but testing must be voluntary and informed. As of course is a decision to receive treatment.
Here is an excerpt from the French statement that shows the concern for individual autonomy and recognizes that there is a potential threat of the employment of coercive measures.
” if screening and massively treating infected persons enables to reduce the epidemic, it could be tempting to consider population compulsory systematic screening and to voice more or less insistent summons for the treatment of persons identified as HIV positive. Should public authorities use all convenient means to implement efficient policies that strengthen screening, they need to be careful not to yield to such fallacious reasoning. The issue of improving screening efficiency surely does not invalidate any of the reasons that have hitherto prevailed for rejecting compulsory screening. Keeping screening hinged on free and informed consent remains a matter of respecting the fundamental right of the person; it is at the same time an obligation even from the public health viewpoint,
Pursuing a probably completely unworkable attempt to end the epidemic by yearly testing and treating everyone infected as has been suggested by some, is wrong. The problems of feasibility, adherence, resistance, and the threats to individual autonomy cannot be overcome.
Instead we should:
Offer treatment to all who need it.
Facilitate testing, identifying and removing barriers that impede it.
Intensify and improve our efforts at targeted prevention education.
Promote condom use and make them available.
There is a final issue.
Who needs to be treated? Certainly everyone with a CD4 count below 200. Apart from this we do not know, so until we obtain some guidance from prospective randomized studies, it is prudent, in general, to not delay treatment to a CD4 count below 350 as is currently recommended.
Posted on May 1st, 2009 No comments
I have written several posts dealing with “Treatment as Prevention” referring to proposals that the epidemic could be controlled by testing and treating all infected people. However, as this phrase is also used in a different, although related context, I am adding this last postscript.
Thus, “treatment as prevention” has a context that concerns populations and considers a strategy to control and even end the epidemic. The same phrase also has a context that deals with prevention of infection at an individual level, and focuses on transmission risks between two people.
The latter context was brought to attention in 2008 by the Swiss Federal Commission on HIV/AIDS. Their publication essentially states that, under certain conditions, with effective antiviral treatment achieving an undetectable viral load, the risk of sexual transmission without condom use is not greater than that with the use of condoms.
Among the conditions stipulated is that there is no sexually transmitted infection, and that the viral load has been undetectable for at least six months.
Now a German voluntary organization, Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, has added support – with some modifications to the Swiss statement.
There was a huge controversy when the Swiss recommendations were first made public in 2008. Their conclusions were rejected by groups in the US, even by those who promoted the application of the same principle – the reduction in infectivity conferred by treatment – as a means of controlling the epidemic.
I was – and am – absolutely supportive of the Swiss recommendations as applied to individuals. Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote when the Swiss document was published:
“The report is absolutely reasonable. There are caveats and cautions in it, and since I can see no reasonable objection to them, we have to look elsewhere to try and understand why the report has provoked such a furious response. I know it is a bit pedantic and pretentious but I’m going to add a quotation that is over 100 years old that recognizes that scientists can be as irrational as anyone else (especially about sex), here it is:
In Man Adapting, Rene Dubos notes that:
“The presuppositions on which medicine operates are thus conditioned by the general philosophy of the social group as a whole” and adds the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1860:
“The truth is that medicine, professedly founded on observation, is as sensitive to outside influences, political, religious, philosophical, imaginative, as is the barometer to the changes in atmospheric density”10
I would bet that some who have commented have not even read the cautious Swiss text, and have allowed their prejudices and squeamishness about sex in general to surface at the very mention of sex without condoms.
The Swiss authors do deserve some recognition for their courage. There are circumstances in which it is not irresponsible to have sex without condoms. And even for those for whom these circumstances do not apply, the knowledge of the possibility of sex without condoms will be an encouragement, in at least two ways.
Firstly, to continue using condoms when this is necessary, and then as a support with treatment adherence and monitoring.
I say these things as someone who had something to do with the original introduction of condom use for AIDS prevention in 1983, – briefly described here:
and until now thought – as probably most did, that condom use would be forever.
Knowing that this is not necessarily so is a tremendous encouragement and I believe this thought alone will help our prevention efforts”.
I have continued to encourage the use of condoms, but I do welcome the Swiss document for pointing out, with appropriate documentation and caution, that there are circumstances when it is not irresponsible to dispense with them.
This also means that there are circumstances when conception is possible. There are also implications in situations where there are laws that criminalize sexual contact with HIV infected people under certain circumstances.
A large part of the irrational responses to the proposal are I believe based on a disparaging attitude towards sex.
For many, the use of condoms is a barrier to intimacy. The knowledge that if certain circumstances can be met, an infected person is not endangering their sexual partner by dispensing with condoms is in fact a life affirming celebration of sex, one of life’s joys.
Admittedly, dispensing with condoms will not be possible for most individuals. It is probably most relevant to serodiscordant couples in a stable relationship – that is where only one of the partners is HIV infected.
But knowing that this might be achieved could be a great support to most HIV infected people who must continue to use condoms It will also be a greater incentive to remain adherent to one’s treatment regimen.
Of course the diminished infectivity of effectively treated individuals is the basis for the proposals to use treatment of all infected people as a means of controlling the epidemic.
This is a very different situation, most importantly because it will involve treating people who do not need to be treated for their own personal benefit. These healthier people will derive no benefit from the medications and only be exposed to their side effects. I have written about this in previous posts on treatment as prevention.
Except for the relatively uncommon situations outlined in the Swiss document, and more cautiously and explicitly, in the German document, the consistent use of condoms remains one of the most important measures we have to prevent infection.