Child born with HIV goes into remission with a new treatment regimen
The breakthrough gives a new hope to thousands of children born with HIV.
HIV is a dreaded disease. It spreads by unprotected sexual intercourse including oral and anal sex, sharing of infected hypodermic needles, blood transfusions and organ transplants. But, the worst part is, it may be passed on from a mother to a child during pregnancy, birth, or while breastfeeding.
However, there is a good news. Three children born with HIV have gone into a state of remission: they no longer require the medicines and have a healthy immune system. One of them is a 9-year-old child from South Africa who has been in remission for more than 8 years!
Human Immunovirus is a virus that affects the immune system in humans. It targets a few types of white blood cells in the body, rendering them useless in the long term. The person is usually asymptomatic after the infection or experiences flu like symptoms, followed by a long asymptomatic period.
However, the body cannot defend itself without the active immunity for long and after a period of time, the person becomes sick. Infections like tuberculosis or cancers like Kaposi Sarcoma are commonly seen in patients infected with HIV. This stage is termed as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. The infections are called as opportunistic infections as they would not have happened with the active immunity in place.
The good news is, HIV is no longer a death sentence. The Antiretroviral Therapy, (ART), the treatment to keep the virus inactive in the body has made it possible for HIV patients to live a normal, productive life. And this is a huge improvement, especially for children born with HIV infection.
It essentially means taking a set of medicines throughout the life. The virus is kept in check and the chances of opportunistic infections occurring are reduces. These patients can grow up to be productive members of the society.
In essence, the ART is for life. However, an early treatment of the babies born with HIV has shown promising results. Till the date, 3 babies have gone into remission. The child, a part of a clinical trial sponsored by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases received an early treatment for HIV infection. The treatment started when the child was just 2 months old and continued for 40 weeks. And now, the child is in remission with no need for any medication!
Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (EMTCT) is one of the objectives of WHO's AIDS programme. Without any intervention, the rate of infection in children born to women who are HIV positive is 15 to 45%. The good news is that this transmission can be entirely eliminated.
A regimen of ART early in the pregnancy and during the breastfeeding phase can prevent this transfer entirely. In fact, according to a report, many countries including Armenia, Belarus, Cuba and Thailand have been formally validated for an elimination of MTCT of HIV as a public health problem.
In 2015, every 3 minutes, a new baby became HIV positive. However, due to the efforts of local governments as well as NGOs, the outreach of ARTs have improved. For those infected, this study is a great news!
Even though more studies are required to establish the reason, early treatment is going to be explored in a much better way in the coming years. In my mind, there is a hope for children who suffer from this malady from no fault of their own.