South African Child 'Virtually Cured' of HIV After 1 Year of Treatment

A HIV patient takes her dose of ARV drugs. Researchers have said pharmaceuticals know that if they found a cure it would be a one-off cost and choose instead to make profits from antiretroviral drugs. FILE

It follows the case of the "Mississippi baby" in the United States, in which a child was treated for 18 months and one year later showed no signs of the virus.

But this is indeed a step in the right direction as most people who are HIV positive have to take daily antiretroviral drugs in order to protect their immune system and prevent them developing AIDS.

More than half of people infected with HIV worldwide are now getting drugs, and AIDS-related deaths have nearly halved since 2005, putting the world on track to hit the target of 30 million people on treatment by 2020, the United Nations said last week.

The case resembles that of the "Mississippi baby", a child in the U.S. who was infected at birth in 2010 and treated until she was 18 months old.

The results suggest a new way of managing the virus that causes Aids without the burden of having to take daily pills.

While AIDS is a condition in humans, which triggers progressive failure of the immune system and allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive, without treatment, the average survival time after infection with HIV is estimated to be 9 to 11 years, depending on the HIV subtype. One example would be Sub-Saharan Africa where many young women aged between 15 and 24 are more susceptible to getting infected with HIV, with a 44 percent higher infection rate than their male peers.

It's not a healing, considering the HIV virus is still present, but it is so weak that it can not be multiplied or transmitted to another person even in the absence of a treatment.

The case of a South African child infected with HIV at birth who is now in remission has raised new hopes for all the other children born with the virus.

Though early anti-retroviral therapy was not standard practice at the time, it was given to the child from nine weeks old as part of a clinical trial. After 40 weeks, the treatment was complete and the child has maintained an undetectable level of HIV to this day.

Eastern and southern Africa, which accounts for more than half of all people living with the HIV virus, have seen AIDs-related deaths decline by as much as 42 per cent and new HIV infections by 29 per cent, including a 56 per cent drop in new infections among children.

While other children saw their viral loads rebound, the girl still has no detectable HIV in her blood, researchers said.

According to reports, the baby contracted HIV from its mother when she was born.

Dr David Margolis, study leader and director of HIV drug development at ViiV Healthcare, North Carolina, US, said: "Adherence to medication remains an important challenge in HIV treatment". They call for 90% of people to know their HIV status, 90% of people with diagnosed HIV infection on treatment, and 90% of people on treatment to be virally suppressed. Recent tests also have detected no evidence of HIV infection beyond a small reservoir of virus and no symptoms of HIV infection, according to the NIH.

It's not exactly clear why some children may be able to live so long without needing ongoing HIV treatment.

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