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Miracle 'Mississippi baby' helps draw policies on AIDS in Africa

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The news of a newborn child who successfully shook off all traces of the HIV virus, dubbed the "Mississippi Baby," will have momentous impact in the treatment of mother-to-child AIDS cases. The historical medical breakthrough, announced in March by the Mississippi Medical Center will have an affect on the high rates of AID/HIV treatment in Africa.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The "Mississippi Baby" was born with HIV and treated with aggressive antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after birth. Two years old now, doctors confirm the child has not taken any medication since the age of 18 months. Tests show no sign of re-active HIV.

In response, more than 20 scientists, researchers, public health practitioners, donors, government authorities, representatives of non-government organizations and civil society came together for a two-day symposium on 3-4 June under the theme Scientific advances from "Mississippi Baby: Implications for public health programs on mother-to-child transmission of HIV."

"This meeting is about giving people hope," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé says. "The Mississippi miracle has to become a Durban miracle, a Bamako miracle, a miracle for all children irrespective of where they are born."

The symposium, organized by UNAIDS and the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa or CAPRISA, had a twofold task. First, whether programs to stop new HIV infections among children need to be reformulated to promote early identification and treatment of babies at risk of HIV infection. Secondly, the challenges associated with stopping new HIV infections among children and pediatric antiretroviral treatment.

Despite the 24 percent drop in new HIV infections in children since 2009, some 330,000 children internationally were born with HIV in 2011. Most children born with HIV, more than 90 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa.

While many African countries have made remarkable progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV by increasing access and integrating HIV prevention, treatment and cares services to mothers and their newborns, much work remains to be done.

Progress in expanding access of antiretroviral therapy to children has been minimal. The percentage of children living with HIV eligible for treatment and who were receiving it in 2011 largely falls below 50 percent in at least 15 of the 22 priority countries - eight percent in Chad, 19 percent in Ethiopia and 29 percent in Malawi.

"Pediatric treatment and care lags behind; there seems to be a disconnect between investments in programs to stop new HIV infections in children and for children in need of treatment. Even when the infants are identified they are not successfully linked to care," Dr. Chewe Luo, UNICEF Senior Advisor on AIDS says.

The "Mississippi Baby" case was discussed at great length highlighting the need for early infant diagnosis and initiation of treatment.

"The relevance of the "Mississippi Baby" to the general population remains unclear and more research, including for safe and appropriate neonatal drugs needs to be done before we push for widespread change in policy," Dr. Hanna Gay, Associate Professor at University of Mississippi, who treated the "Mississippi Baby" says. "But one thing we can be certain of is that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives."

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