HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Earlier this week, news agencies across the country reported that a 2-year-old Mississippi girl was the first child to be “functionally cured” of HIV.
Mary Elizabeth Marr, CEO of AIDS Action Coalition in Huntsville, reached out to WHNT News 19 in response to numerous inquiries to her organization in order to clarify some points about the story.
“While this is certainly excellent news for the baby in this story, and very promising news in future treatment options, this is not a cure,” said Marr.
Typically, when an HIV positive woman is pregnant, she knows her status and gets medication during the pregnancy so the chance is reduced of the baby being born with HIV.
“In this case, the woman did not get any prenatal care. They did a rapid HIV test and discovered the woman was HIV positive,” said Marr.
Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, determined there was such a high probability of the baby being born HIV positive that radical treatment was necessary.
“Right after delivery, Dr. Gay decided to give the baby the combination of three different medications that they use for a full grown patient living with the virus,” said Marr. “This has never been done for a baby.”
Though moving quickly has suppressed the virus, it has not completely cured it. Tests showed the virus in the Mississippi baby’s blood continued to decrease and reached undetectable levels within 29 days of the initial treatment.
This radical treatment is promising but it may not have a great impact in first world countries, according to Marr. In America, only a couple of hundred babies are born with HIV because of medication treatment protocols.
“Ever since we started the protocol of medicating positive mothers 10 years ago, we have only had two positive babies born here in northern Alabama. In those cases, the moms found out late in their pregnancies and did not get care,” said Marr.
“We are not going to change what we are doing. We want women to know their status while they are pregnant,” said Marr.
Though this discovery may not have a great impact on first world countries, it has considerable implications for other parts of the world.
“This is a game changer for babies born to women in third world countries who do not know their status. This practice could be put in practice there,” said Marr.
AIDS Action Coalition currently operates the Davis Clinic in Huntsville and the Hames Clinic in Florence. The clinics serve all of northern Alabama, providing healthcare, mental health, and supportive services for approximately 600 HIV positive clients.
“We provide prevention education in the community, housing assistance, counseling, and testing for HIV. We do about 2,500 tests per year,” said Marr.
AIDS Action Coalition will be hosting a viewing of the documentary Deep South on May 8. They will also be hosting their annual fundraiser, Dining With Friends, on June 15 at Burritt Museum.
For more information about AIDS Action Coalition or to donate, please visit their website at http://www.aidsactioncoalition.org/.