A SOUTH African child born with HIV has surprised experts by appearing to be effectively cured of the AIDS virus after just a year of treatment followed by eight and a half years drug-free.
Patients with HIV would normally need to stay on antiretroviral (ART) drugs for the rest of their lives to keep AIDS at bay. But this child, still off treatment and now almost 10 years old, has no signs of the disease.
This and other recent, isolated cases of remission have given additional hope to the 37 million people worldwide infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
Yet experts urged caution, saying the case is extremely rare and does not suggest a simple path to a cure.
‘It’s a case that raises more questions than it necessarily answers,’ said Linda-Gail Bekker, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).
The child was part of a clinical trial in which researchers were investigating the effect of treating HIV-positive babies in the first few weeks of life, and then stopping and starting the ART medicines whilst checking whether their HIV was being controlled.
The United Nations HIV/AIDS agency said last week that 19.5 million people – more than half of the 37 million patients with HIV – are now on treatment.
The baby contracted HIV from its mother. Treatment with ART started when it was almost nine weeks old but was interrupted at 40 weeks when the virus had been suppressed, and the child was monitored regularly for any signs of relapse.
‘At age 9.5 years, the child was clinically asymptomatic,’ the researchers said.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed around 35 million people worldwide since it began in the 1980s.