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Child’s HIV victory offers great hope

Sunday July 30 2017

A doctor displays  Truvada, the first pill recommended for HIV prevention in healthy people. PHOTO | KERRY SHERIDAN | AFP

A doctor displays Truvada, the first pill recommended for HIV prevention in healthy people. PHOTO | KERRY SHERIDAN | AFP 

CHEGE MBITIRU
By CHEGE MBITIRU
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While it has become normal for people to accept antiretroviral medication to enable HIV victims to live nearly  a normal life, a South African eight-and-a-half -year old brings to mind “lest we forget” that’s only a halfway at best.

There are reasons why people accept antiretroviral treatment as a “comfortable” control of the virus, which destroys body’s immune system, leading to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome disease.

It doesn’t hurry death, leading to prolonged misery.

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, “Expanded access to antiretroviral therapy and a declining incidence of HIV infections has led to a steep fall globally in the number of adults and children dying from HIV-related causes.’

The estimated 1.1 million people dying from HIV globally in 2015 were 45 per cent fewer than in 2005 and fewer than 26 per cent than in 2010, WHO says.

That’s looking at aggregate numbers. Different regions and countries have different percentages.

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INFECTION

Anyway, back to the Johannesburg child. A week today the BBC reported the unidentified kid caught the infection from mother at birth, but has lived without medication.

The story goes the child received a burst of antiretroviral treatment 30 hours after birth. At the time, that wasn’t standard practice and the child was part of a clinical trial.

The treatment was stopped after 40 weeks when HIV levels in the blood became undetectable. 

According to the BBC story “unlike anybody else on the study—the virus has not returned,” a “virtue cure.”

Dr Avy Violari, the head of paediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, said: “We don’t believe that antiretroviral therapy alone can lead to remission.

“We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission. We believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related.” 

REMISSION

Of course doctors will have to wait and see if the remission is permanent. After all, it’s all about one child.

But as Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies.” 

The phenomenon raises hope, he said, of developing a way of sparing children lifelong therapy.

The findings of the child’s remission were presented at the International Aids Society Conference on HIV science.

At the same venue, a proposal, cautiously, mooted immunotherapy methods of treating cancer that have led to complete remission might apply to HIV.

VIRUS

That means enabling the body’s immune system to continuously fight the virus.

Indications are that with funding, determination and knowledge to pursue ways leading to a permanent HIV remission exists.

What’s lacking is money. According to the Kaiser Foundation funding for tackling the HIV fell by eight percent from 2014 to 2015.

It’s no wonder President Donald Trump of the US, the largest lateral and bilateral donor for HIV and related diseases came under fire for budget proposals to reduce contribution.

Well, remission of terminal illnesses worldwide is also good for the US.

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