Statement from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
In response to today’s announcement that the “Mississippi Baby,” believed to have been functionally cured of HIV, has now been found to have detectable levels of the virus, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) expresses disappointment in this setback but remains hopeful that the scientific breakthrough that allowed the child’s HIV levels to remain undetectable for more than two years will continue to help researchers understand how to control HIV and ultimately develop a cure.
“Although we had high hopes that the child would remain HIV-free, this case represents important research that still provides a tremendous learning opportunity about how rapid, early treatment affects the body’s response to HIV, especially in newborns, which eventually could lead to a cure,” said R.J. Simonds, M.D., vice president of program innovation and policy at EGPAF. “Efforts to take what we have learned from this case and apply it to future studies must stay high on the HIV research agenda. At the same time, increasing access to treatment for children who are currently living with HIV remains equally critical.”
The child, born in 2010 to an HIV-positive mother who received no prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services during her pregnancy, tested positive for HIV shortly after birth. She was given a high dose of antiretroviral medications at 30 hours of age and remained on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 18 months before she was lost to follow-up care. Five months after being lost to care, the child was again examined by medical staff and found to have undetectable levels of HIV. The child’s HIV viral load remained undetectable in the absence of ART for more than two years. However, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), in July 2014, at almost 4 years of age, detectable levels of HIV were found in the child’s blood, along with a decreased level of CD4 T-cells and the presence of HIV antibodies—signals that the virus is actively replicating in the body.
The “Mississippi Baby” represents an unprecedented immune system response to HIV and demonstrates that very early treatment can significantly affect the reservoir levels of HIV in the body, even if it doesn’t fully eliminate the virus. EGPAF strongly supports clinical trials and continued research being led by NIH, the Johns Hopkins University, and other institutions to learn more about how the methods used to treat the Mississippi Baby can lead to a cure for HIV.
In addition to advancing HIV/AIDS research, EGPAF’s programs focus on HIV prevention and treatment as the best tools to end pediatric HIV. We have provided 20 million women with services to prevent them from transmitting HIV to their babies. We are making great strides toward eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV globally. By providing a pregnant or breastfeeding woman ART we can almost completely eliminate the possibility that she will pass the virus onto her baby during pregnancy, child birth, or breastfeeding. However, every day 700 children become newly infected with HIV. We must quickly identify and begin treating these children to ensure they can lead healthy lives.
EGPAF’s job isn’t over until no child has AIDS. This means ensuring that families, communities and countries have the tools they need and the resources to plan, implement, and sustain their HIV programs so that all families are reached with services. An AIDS-free generation is not just a dream; together we can make it a reality.