Although a two-year-old infant was found to have been cured of the HIV virus, there is no record of such an incident in SA, according to the Aids Foundation of South Africa.
News that a two-year-old Mississippi-born child has been cured of the HIV virus made headlines worldwide yesterday. Announced on Sunday by doctors from Mississippi University, this finding could affect HIV research and pave the way for a possible Aids cure.
According to the New York Times, the infant was treated with antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after birth, which is an unheard of practice. Justine van Rooyen, spokesperson for Aids Foundation SA, said her organisation believed that this was a tangible breakthrough.
According to van Rooyen, there is room for such treatment in SA. However, there have been no reported cases of such incidents in SA.
The only known cured person was Timothy Brown, also known as the Berlin patient, a middle-aged man with leukemia who received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor who was genetically resistant to HIV infection.
van Rooyen said she believed the country still had the potential to produce a cure.
"Last year renowned Durban scientist and researcher Professor Salim Abdool Karim was elected to the American Institute of Medicine as a foreign associate in recognition of his pioneering contributions to research into HIV prevention and treatment.
"Professor Karim was the director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA (Caprisa), Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was appointed president of the SA Medical Research Council. Therefore, we definitely have the skills and the capacity. Ideally, the cure should come from this country, considering that we have the highest HIV prevalence in the world."
van Rooyen touched on SA's ARV rollout statistics, stating that SA has the largest ARV rollout system in the world, with 1.8 million people accessing ART (antiretroviral therapy) last year. This has made significant contributions to mortality, life expectancy and quality of life for HIV-positive people, significantly reducing one's viral load where the virus is almost undetectable in the body.
van Rooyen explains that conventionally only when a patient’s CD4 count drops below a certain level do ARVs become necessary.
"In the public sector, everyone who is HIV positive with a CD4 count of 350 and less is put on ARVs. In the private sector, patients are started on treatment earlier, at a CD4 count of 500. However, if someone with HIV has tuberculosis (TB) as well, the person is put on ARVs regardless of his or her CD4 count.
"Research has shown that within four months of infection, HIV antiretroviral therapy helps the immune system restore T-cells to healthy levels. Studies that state it is better for a person to take ARVs as soon as they learn their status have immense cost implications for government. It is believed that earlier treatment could potentially lead to an HIV-free generation... because once on ARVs one's viral load drops significantly which reduces the chance of transmitting the virus."
In addition van Rooyen states that the new insight into the optimal timing of therapy for HIV infection could give patients a better chance of responding to potential cure strategies of the future.
Qouting an article, van Rooyen states: "similar to this infant who was cured because of early ART, from a clinical perspective, this means that if you can get an infected baby on to antiretroviral drugs immediately after delivery, it's going to be possible to prevent or reverse the infection - essentially cure the baby, which means that a cure is definitely close at hand!"
* Aids Foundation SA has increased its ART reach by 145.27%, from 12 147 patients in 2011 to 29 794 patients in 2012. For more information, call 031 277 2700.