HIV cure raises hopes tempered with caution

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 14:05

Washington: The report of an American toddler "functionally cured" of HIV has raised hopes of a breakthrough in the global fight to end the AIDS epidemic, but researchers suggest treating the development with caution.

Calling it "The Intriguing Case of a Baby Cured of HIV", The New York Times editorially said: "There are reasons to treat this apparent breakthrough cautiously."

"Researchers must still demonstrate conclusively that the baby had truly been infected and was not simply prevented from absorbing its mother`s infection - a process achieved routinely in many babies," it said.

"They must also show that this is not an exceptional, non-replicable case with an atypical baby, but that the same treatment would work in other newborns," the influential US daily said.

Doctors cited by USA today agreed that extending the success in curing the 2-year Mississippi girl infected with HIV at birth "will be a challenge".

Noting that more than 300,000 babies a year worldwide are born infected with HIV, researchers cautioned that "it will likely take years before they`re able to extend that success to a broader community of patients, if ever".

Doctors credit the child`s cure to early treatment; her physicians began treatment soon after delivery, which is the standard of care for the child of an untreated, HIV-positive mother.

Most adults can`t benefit from such early therapy, because they typically don`t even learn that they`re infected for months or years, USA Today said citing Rana Chakraborty, an associate professor of paediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine.

While the child`s story has been hailed as a victory for science, Chakraborty said the case also illustrates the single greatest challenge in treating AIDS: actually getting care to patients.

Delivering on the promise of scientific breakthroughs has been a challenge not just in developing countries of Africa, but in the US, the daily said.

Only 28 percent of people of the 1.2 million HIV-positive Americans have been diagnosed and treated successfully so that their levels of virus are undetectable, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, CNN said the toddler`s case could have wide-ranging effects on the global fight to end the AIDS epidemic.

"If we can replicate this in other infants ... this has huge implications for the burden of infection that`s occurring globally," Deborah Persaud, a paediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children`s Centre was quoted as saying.

"For the unfortunate ones who do get infected, if this can be replicated, this would offer real hope of clearing the virus," added Persaud the lead author of a report on the toddler`s case.

"We are enthusiastic about the potential of this case, but it is one case and it needs to be replicated and confirmed through future studies and clinical trials," said Meg Doherty, the World Health Organization`s Department of HIV/AIDS coordinator of treatment and care, as cited by CNN.

IANS

First Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 14:05

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