Saturday May 25, 2019

Stem Cell Transplant Shows Promise For AIDS Treatment: Study

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people

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School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. (VOA)

Although the news of a second person being cured of HIV through stem cell transplant is exciting and may pave the way for future treatments, experts say the treatment may not work in case of all patients infected with the AIDS causing virus.

“The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, reducing its ability to fight diseases or infections,” Girish Badarkhe, Haematologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, told IANS.

“The stem cell transplant primarily involves reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. But there a small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations known as CCR5-delta 32,” he stressed.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, a man in London, who prefers to remain anonymous, was treated with stem cell transplants from donors with CCR5-delta 32 mutation. It made him resistant to HIV, just like the first cured case of Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the “Berlin patient”, a decade ago.

The London man was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and was put on anti-retroviral therapy in 2012. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the immune system.

After undergoing chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and also continued with anti-retroviral drugs for 16 months.

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Scientists have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS for close to 40 years. The director of UNAIDS called news that a man in London has been functionally cured of HIV a “breakthrough.” VOA

He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.

“While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system,” Badarkhe said.

“Stem cell transplants are an established treatment, particularly for blood related cancer with 70 per cent success rate. “In this case, he got cured both from cancer as well as the AIDS,” Badarkhe said.

Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV in 2017. With an HIV prevalence of 0.26 per cent in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people with HIV, shows UNAIDS data.

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“Besides, the stem cell therapy is also linked to increased death risks and is also not cost-friendly,” Badarkhe said.

However, experts are enthusiastic about the promise that the cure of the London patient showed.

“It is a positive news. But there is a need for more scientific facts and evidence to be established,” V. Sam Prasad, Country Programme Director at AIDS Healthcare Foundation India, told IANS.

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people. (IANS)

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Uganda Remembers AIDS Victims by Marking ‘International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day’

According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people

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FILE - A campaign supporter lights candles in the Philippines as part of commemorations of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Quezon city, metro Manila, the Philippines, May 14, 2016. VOA

Uganda is marking International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day with activities to remember the estimated 2 million Ugandans who have died of the disease.

While the government and development partners have increased campaigns for HIV awareness, however, the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease keep many Ugandans fearful from learning of or talking about their HIV status, says those who carry the virus.

Twenty-five-year-old Namanya Martin Paul was born with HIV. Having lost his father to AIDS at the age of 2, he only learned about his status at age 10 when his mother, also HIV positive, was attending antenatal care. His other three siblings were then found to be HIV-positive. Paul was forced to change schools due to discrimination until he made a decision to open up.

“It’s not easy. There’s a particular point in time where a nurse got to know my situation, where I was keeping my medication and she actually, like, made it very open to school,” Paul said. “So, I called for a school parade and told these people, this is who I am. Am living with HIV, am taking my medication. And, you need to support me.”

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According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people. Flickr

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness. According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people. Sarah Nakku, the U.N. AIDS community mobilization adviser, says many infected people are careful about revealing their status.

“We do have laws that discriminate against people living with HIV. … That instead of allowing people to come out openly,” Nakku said. “Incidentally, people decide to hide because they do not want to fall victims of the law. We also have schools where discrimination does happen. If you don’t tap into the teachers, this young person cannot be supported to adhere on treatment.”

In 2018, the government launched an initiative that demands every institution, both government and private, address the needs of HIV-positive people as part of its workplace policy.

Dr. Nelson Musoba, director-general of the Uganda AIDS Commission, says that even though the government has set up more effective measures to curb the disease, Ugandans need to be more careful about exposing themselves to HIV.

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School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. VOA

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“So, we also have the pre-exposure prophylaxis, which the HIV-negative partner takes to ensure that they remain HIV-negative. There’s research going on, on vaccines, on other treatments, but we need to stay alive for us to benefit from those technologies. We can’t afford to be reckless just because there’s treatment,” Musoba said.

The Ministry of Health says Uganda is close to achieving its “90-90-90” target, set in 2014. The aim is for 90 percent of people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent who test positive to enroll in care and treatment, and 90 percent of those in treatment to achieve “viral load suppression” — that is, for the virus to become inactive. (VOA)