New York, US - The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UNICEF have welcomed a new case study which found that a baby treated with anti-retroviral drugs in the first 30 hours of life, and who continued on treatment for 18 months, appeared to be 'functionally cured’’.
“This news gives us great hope that a cure for HIV in children is possible and could bring us one step closer to an AIDS free generation,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a statement made available to PANA in New York on Tuesday.
“This also underscores the need for research and innovation especially in the area of early diagnostics.
“Now two and a half year’s old, the toddler continues to thrive without anti-retroviral therapy and has no identifiable levels of HIV. However, UNAIDS cautions that more studies need to be conducted to understand the outcomes and whether the current findings can be replicated,”
Sidibe recalled that in 2011, UNAIDS and its partners launched a Global plan for the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive, saying significant progress had been made and continued support and research is needed.
On his part, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said: “While we wait for these results to be confirmed with further research, it is potentially great news and this case also demonstrates what we already know – it is vital to test newborn babies at risk as soon as possible.'
In a statement, Lake said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF data showed only 28 per cent of HIV-exposed babies were tested for HIV within six weeks of birth in 2010.
But he said obstacles to early diagnosis and treatment included the high cost of diagnostics, difficulty of getting timely results and limited access to services and medicines.
The new findings were presented on Monday at the Conference on Retro-viruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Atlanta, Georgia, US.
According to US researchers, the mother - who was living with HIV at the time of birth - had not received anti-retroviral medication or prenatal care.
They said the child was born prematurely in July 2010 in the US State of Mississippi and due to the high risk of exposure to HIV, the researchers said the baby was started on a triple
therapy regimen of anti-retroviral drug 30 hours after birth and before proof of infection could be confirmed.
They also said the newborn’s HIV-positive status was subsequently confirmed through a highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction testing which was conducted on several occasions.
The case study said the baby was discharged from the hospital after one week and continued ARV treatment until 18 months of age, when for reasons that are unclear the treatment was discontinued.
However, when the child was seen by medical professionals about a half a year later, blood samples revealed undetectable HIV levels and no HIV-specific anti-bodies.
If the findings are confirmed, this would be the first well-documented case of an HIV-positive child who appears to have no detectable levels of the virus despite stopping HIV treatment.