HIV/AIDS

07 March 2013

HIV-free generation still possible

By now many of you may have heard the exciting news that broke this weekend of a baby born HIV-positive that has reportedly been cured.

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By now many of you may have heard the exciting news that broke this weekend of a baby born HIV-positive that has reportedly been cured. 

The story began in the fall of 2010 in a rural Mississippi hospital, when a young pregnant woman was admitted prematurely in labor. 

She had never had a prenatal visit and had no idea she was living with HIV until a test given there indicated she might be positive. 

HIV treatment after birth

About 30 hours after birth, the infant was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center where the doctor administered HIV tests and discovered the child, too, had been infected.  This is where the exciting and potentially life-changing news begins.

Rather than waiting until confirmation that the HIV tests were positive, the doctor began treating the baby aggressively with a three drug antiretroviral regimen, a treatment that continued for 18 months.

 Now 2 1Ž2 years old, the child’s viral load remains undetectable, considered a “functional cure.”  Researchers have put the baby through a battery of tests and have found no virus able to replicate anywhere in the child’s body.

Experts still trying to explain cure

Scientists are still trying to explain this cure, but there is general excitement and hope for what future findings may discover. 

We at mothers2mothers (m2m) are thrilled at the prospect that infected babies may actually one day be able to live a life that is HIV-free.  Yet, we realise there are still many questions to be answered before this research is confirmed and HIV-positive babies receive this treatment.

While we can all exult that there is a potential cure for a baby born positive, we have to acknowledge that HIV testing and sophisticated treatments will not be available to the vast majority of children most at risk of contracting HIV in resource-poor regions of the world. 

Newborns living with the virus  

Mothers2mothers believes that preventing infants at risk of HIV from becoming infected in the first place should continue to be the primary goal. In 2011, 330 000 children were newly infected with HIV.

 Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and most acquire the virus from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. 

Considerable progress has been made over the last decade in reducing paediatric transmission rates by providing women and babies with effective and inexpensive medical interventions during pregnancy and after birth.  If this progress continues, we believe an HIV-free generation is within our reach.

And truly, if there is a choice between treating a baby with drugs and one born healthy, the answer is clear.  Just ask any mother.

 “I would prefer to have a healthy baby” says Goodness Makhanda, an m2m Mentor Mother living with HIV in Mbabane, Swaziland.  This mother of a healthy four-year-old son continues, “Prevention is better than cure.  If somehow it happened that my child would not be treated, that would be so hard for me to raise up a positive child, that’s why I’d prefer to prevent HIV."

 

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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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