An Accessible Cure For HIV?

A baby girl has been cured from HIV. She is not the first person ever to be cured from the disease but she is the first person to be cured using easily available measures and medicine. Born in Mississippi, the child is now over two years old and has been without medication for a year without signs of infection. The girl was given a very early treatment with normal drug therapy. Should the girl remain healthy, the treatment given to her would be viewed as a ‘cure’ for the lethal disease.

Written By William Barns-Graham

There is also the fact that the treatment will have to be tested on others to see if the ‘cure’ is always effective. HIV/Aids related charities have been quick to voice both optimism and caution over the news, noting the need for further tests and ongoing analysis of the Mississippi girl. Following multiple decades with the devastating effects of the disease, such caution is perhaps understandable. As well as this, there have been various mooted cures to the disease down the years and yet the grave scale of it remains pertinent throughout the world.

The previous such cure was given to Timothy Ray Brown whose infection was destroyed through intricate treatments for leukaemia whereby his immune system was destroyed before a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV. Such treatment is not, however, readily available, so the news that this girl may have been cured using treatment that could be given to normal people affected by the disease around the world is of course a cause for great optimism. It is also a massive encouragement for areas particularly affected by the disease, including various places in Africa where HIV tends to spread more through mother to child rather than as an STI or blood transfusions.

Dr Deborah Persaud, the virologist who presented the findings in Atlanta, was understandably please with the news.

“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” she said. She was keen to point out that the treatment allows for HIV to be eradicated before forming hideouts in the body which lay dormant before re-infecting the person. This is again a reason for the caution among various doctors and charities in that it will have to be shown that such dormant cells will not re-emerge despite this treatment. For example, a spokeswoman for HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said that there will need to be “careful ongoing follow-up” into the health of the young girl treated.

“This is interesting” she said, “but the patient will need careful ongoing follow-up for us to understand the long-term implications for her and any potential for other babies born with HIV.”

The baby had only just been found to be positive with HIV when the treatment began. Because the mother had not been given prenatal HIV treatment, doctors knew the baby was at risk of infection. It was then that the baby was transferred to the University of Mississippi where she was given a cocktail of three standard HIV-fighting drugs at just 30 hours of age by paediatric HIV specialist Dr Hannah Gay. This treatment ensued for 18 months; five months after the first 18 months, during which the treatment had stopped, doctors carried out tests on the child and were astonished to find the child no longer had the infection – using the most intense tests available.

Scepticism can be had, however, over the intentionality of the course of treatment such was this unforeseen five month hiatus mid-treatment.

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