Commentary: What Does the Second Baby "Cured" From HIV Really Mean?

A Medical Worker Holds The Hand Of An Infant Dying Of Hiv/Aids (Photo: Design Pics / Ron Nickel/GettyImgaes)

Commentary: What Does the Second Baby "Cured" From HIV Really Mean?

Treatment doesn’t cure HIV in adults.

Published March 6, 2014

This week, news came out of the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) held in Boston. Another baby born to a mother living with HIV, this time from Los Angeles, may have its HIV in remission.

Doctors gave the baby “high doses of antiretroviral drugs — AZT, 3TC and Nevirapine — four hours after birth,” CNN reported. A mere 11 days later, the baby’ HIV virus was undetectable and stayed that way for another nine months.

But is this baby cured? Researchers say it’s too early to tell because the baby is still on medication, given that the standard of care for babies born with HIV is to continue treatment.  

This isn’t the first time we have heard this story. News of the first baby to be “cured” of HIV hit the media last year, with a new announcement also being made at CROI that the baby born in Mississippi has remained HIV-negative for 40 months.

This news, in terms of pregnancy and HIV, is a good thing.

This approach could be adopted globally as a means to reduce HIV transmission from mothers to babies in the developing world and in impoverished pockets in the U.S where positive mothers fall through the health care gaps. This could be an alternative for babies whose mothers did not receive HIV meds during the pregnancy or do not take them consistently.

And soon, there will be a series of clinical trials to test this method of seeing if providing babies with treatment early can block the virus for the rest of their lives.

And while this is a step forward in AIDS research, it’s important to keep it real: This won’t cure HIV/AIDS in adults who are already living with the disease. A baby’s immune system is very different than an adult’s immune system and both respond to treatment differently.

But what this can underscore is just how important testing and treatment for HIV is in general, especially in Black America.

Being on treatment may not cure us or erase stigma or social and economical inequality, but it can dramatically improve the quality of your life and health; get your virus in check; reduce your risk of developing opportunistic infections such as recurrent pneumonia and invasive cervical cancer; and reduce the risk of HIV developing into AIDS. But treatment also reduces the risk of passing along the virus to others if the meds have made your viral load “undetectable.”  

In the end, treatment may not be the answer for the cure for adults. It sure is the answer for life. And I don't know about you, I find some serious hope in that. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Design Pics / Ron Nickel/GettyImages)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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