Hope as infants born with HIV ‘respond well to treatment’

Researchers have been studying Mississippi Baby phenomenon [Courtesy]
Two Kericho infants put on the Mississippi Baby HIV ‘cure’ that electrified the world in 2013 are responding well, doctors have revealed.

Last week, scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the United States Military HIV Research Programme reported the two HIV-positive infants had been put on intense treatment and would remain under observation for up to nine years.

The Kenya-US team, which has been carrying out several clinical trials for HIV cures at their field station in Kericho, was presenting its progress at Kemri’s annual scientific conference held in Nairobi last week.

In one of two clinical trials the researchers are carrying out, the two HIV-positive infants were put on intensive anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment hours after birth.

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The treatment is modelled along the now famous Mississippi Baby who, in 2013, convinced the world she had been cured of HIV.

She had featured alongside the Berlin Patient as the only two people to have ever been cured of HIV using modern medical technologies.

Born prematurely

The baby had been born prematurely in a Mississippi clinic in the US, in 2010, to an HIV-infected mother who did not receive ARVs while pregnant.

Within 30 hours of birth, the child was put on ARVs and a few days later confirmed as HIV-positive.

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Weeks later, the baby was discharged from hospital but continued on ARVs until 18 months of age.

When she was traced five months later, the child had no virus and continued like that for more than two years, convincing the medical world that a cure for HIV had finally been found.

But four years later, the virus was found to have rebounded, and the child is now back on ARVs.

Despite the drawback, HIV researchers have been studying the phenomenon of the Mississippi Baby and how it can be replicated with better results, hence the Kericho study.

The Wednesday presentation at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi said the two Kericho infants had been put on an aggressive ARV regime within 48 hours of birth and were later confirmed to be HIV-positive.

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At weeks eight and 12, their viral load had dropped to undetectable levels and will be assessed again for HIV remission between weeks 84 and 96.

“If both or either of them meet the ARVs cessation criteria, then the medication will be stopped and they will be followed up for nine years,” read the brief.

The team also reported the progress of another three participants at the Kericho station who had been put on another experimental HIV cure.

In this treatment, HIV-positive participants are injected with disease-fighting substances called HIV neutralising antibodies. 

The antibodies have been isolated from a small group of people who, even when exposed to HIV, do not seem to get infected.

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This is a process seen as a possible route to developing a vaccine.

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