As “Functional Cure” Suggests Possibilities for HIV/AIDS Cure, New Findings Underscore Contribution of AIDS to Pregnancy-related Deaths

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By: Sarah Blake, MHTF consultant

Last week’s announcement that a baby girl born HIV-positive in Mississippi had been functionally cured of the disease drew the attention of media around the world. However, the implications of this case are still unknown: does it mean that we are on the verge of a revolution in HIV/AIDS treatment? Denise Naniche of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health explores some of the scientific questions that this news raised in a blog post on Health is Global (also published in Spanish on the Huffington Post). She writes:

Since HIV establishes a reservoir of persistently infected cells in the earliest stages of infection, there is growing interest in the idea of early intensive antiretroviral treatment to limit the size of this reservoir and as such lead to a functional cure. Since babies are infected most often in the final phases of pregnancy or during labor, they present an ideal situation to prevent or limit the HIV reservoir. In a sense, the case of the Mississippi infant was an unplanned experiment since the infant started treatment early and stopped at 18 months. It opens possibilities for further research in controlled clinical trials for preventing the 1000 daily HIV infections still occurring in infants throughout the world.

Meanwhile, in a study published online in the journal AIDS, Clara Calvert and Carine Ronsmans underscored the critical importance of services for HIV-positive pregnant women around the world. They estimated that “approximately 5% of pregnancy related deaths worldwide and 25% in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to HIV,” and point out that HIV/AIDS is contributing to many of the high overall maternal mortality figures around the world, and called for a comprehensive response that integrates HIV/AIDS care with reproductive and maternal health services.