Undetectable viral load is a milestone in this journey.

Published 05, Mar, 2018
Author // Kimutai Kemboi,

From Kenya, Kimutai Kemboi spreads the word that undetectable equals untransmittable

Undetectable viral load is a milestone in this journey.

I had a conversation with this guy, Sammy (not his real name) and I feel I should share it so that other people learn the facts.

Sammy: Hi Kim? (the short name of Kimutai)

Kemboi: Hi to you bro, how is the going?

Sammy: All is well, how about you?

Kemboi: Everything is perfect, just up and down as a routine.

Sammy: There is something that has been disturbing my mind for a while now and I have tried asking and researching but I am not convinced by the responses. That is why I thought of asking you one on one so that I get your version too...

Kemboi: (I cut him short) Feel free to ask anything. I will respond where I can and if it is too technical or beyond my capacity, I will link with someone who can substantively respond.

Sammy: OK bro, thanks for showing your willingness to respond. (He sips some yellow juice, I guessed it was mango, orange or a mixture of both). Does HIV have a cure?

Kemboi: That is an interesting question, I like where your discussion is heading to. Not everyone can come up with such discussions. To be sincere HIV has no cure at the moment but research is still.....

Sammy: (He cuts me short) Then why do HIV-positive persons take ARVs?

Kemboi: Interesting, ARV is not a cure for HIV but a form of treatment that suppresses viral load in the body.

Sammy: What is viral load and what significance does it have when suppressed?

Kemboi: Definition is a bit technical but I will respond according to my basic understanding. Viral load refers to viral count in a sample of blood,probably, viral count per 1mm³ of blood. A suppressed viral load is a situation whereby the viral count has been successfully reduced as a result of taking and adhering to ARVs. Once the suppression is achieved, the immunity of a person starts to rise and become capable of defending the body against opportunistic infections.

Sammy: I hope you won't be bothered by my inquisitive nature but I really wish to understand this thing.

Kemboi: As I said earlier, feel free to ask anything.

Sammy: Your explanation has aroused my curiosity (takes another sip of juice and holds his chin). What does "opportunistic infections" mean and how long does it take to have viral suppression?

Kemboi: As the name suggests, opportunistic means taking advantage; therefore, opportunistic infections refers to infections that take advantage of a compromised immunity as a result of contracting HIV. Viral suppression is a gradual process a and takes place as soon as a person starts taking medication (ARVs).

Sammy: I was looking at your profile and realized you have some nicknames (laughing), what does Toet and undetectable mean?

Kemboi: (my tea was getting cold, I had to take a double sip). Toet/Towett is a kalenjin (my tribe) to mean last born. I updated in my profile because my mum and siblings call me by that name. Undetectable Dude is a name I branded myself after I achieved a successful viral suppression to undetectable level and...

Sammy: (he interrupts). Wait a minute, your language is becoming technical (he laughs). What do you mean by undetectable?

Kemboi: Once the viral is successfully suppressed to low detectable levels I.e below 50 copies per 1mm³ of blood, it is referred to as undetectable viral load.

Sammy: What significance does it have?

Kemboi: At this stage,it means that a person will not be in a position to pass on the virus to a negative person in instances of exposure.

Sammy: So you mean the person is healed?

Kemboi: ( I took a sip of now cold tea and smiled). The person is not healed but is virtually 'negative' since he cannot pass on the virus. An HIV test will still be positive though!

Sammy: (looking surprised) This must be a miracle!

Kemboi: Not really, it is a scientific fact. That is where the slogan Undetectable equals Untransmitttable (#UequalsU, U=U) came about.

Sammy: You are now bringing in some mathematical equations (lays his cheek on the palm of a hand firmly at the elbow on a round brown coffee table).

Kemboi: Remember maths is also a science (laughing). This is the simplest way to mean that undetectable person is not in a position to pass on the virus. It is scientifically proven and approved. That is why everybody under medication is working on achieving this. It is a milestone in this journey.

About the Author

Kimutai Kemboi,

Kimutai Kemboi,

"I am Kimutai Kemboi, turning 26 on 9th of April 2017. Currently I am pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science at Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. 

"I’m HIV positive and under medication but doing well health wise since I have accepted to live positively, adhere to medication and practice a healthy lifestyle so that HIV does not overwhelm me. Besides my studies, I work as a volunteer to create HIV awareness and sensitivity in the community, both face to face and through social media platforms, especially Facebook.

"I opted to do this awareness-raising because I want to have an HIV-free society and save my generation from perishing."