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"It comes altogether as one:" perceptions of analytical treatment interruptions and partner protections among racial, ethnic, sex and gender diverse HIV serodifferent couples in the United States.



Most HIV cure-related studies involve interrupting antiretroviral treatment to assess the efficacy of pharmacologic interventions - also known as analytical treatment interruptions (ATIs). ATIs imply the risk of passing HIV to sexual partners due to the loss of undetectable HIV status. There has been a notable lack of attention paid to perceptions of ATIs among racial, ethnic, sex and gender minorities, and HIV serodifferent couples. These populations are among those most impacted by HIV in the United States. Future HIV cure research paradigms should equitably include considerations from these groups.


From August - October 2020, we conducted in-depth interviews with 10 racial, ethnic, sex, and gender minority HIV serodifferent couples in geographically diverse regions of the United States to understand their perspectives about ATIs and partner protection measures to prevent secondary HIV transmissions because of participation in ATI studies. We used framework analysis to analyze the qualitative data.


Of the 10 couples recruited, four identified as a gay couple, two as a gay and bisexual couple, two as a heterosexual couple, one as a gay and queer couple, and one as a queer couple. We found that HIV serodifferent couples in our study viewed ATIs as contradicting HIV treatment adherence messages. Couples expressed discomfort around ATIs in HIV cure research. They were concerned with the return of HIV detectability and worried ATIs might result in secondary HIV transmission. Participants were strongly in favor of using a range of partner protection measures during ATIs that included PrEP, HIV risk reduction counseling, and alternatives for penetrative sex practices. Couples also recommended that sex partners be consulted or involved as part of ATI trials.


Our findings highlight new potential opportunities and strategies to mitigate risk of HIV transmission during ATIs among key groups historically under-represented in HIV cure research. Findings also underscore the relational aspects of ATI trials. We provide preliminary considerations for planning ATI trials with diverse HIV serodifferent partners. Future studies should continue to explore these issues among other types of partnerships, cultures, and socio-cultural settings.

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