Experts: HIV breakthrough unlikely to help those who need it most

For the second time in 12 years medical experts have cured a patient with HIV.
Photo Courtesy of Medical News Today.

For just the second time since the worldwide epidemic began more than three decades ago, a patient in London appears to have been cured of an HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS. It has been 12 years since the first known cure for the virus, a feat that researchers have tried to duplicate and failed numerous times. With this success story confirming that a cure for HIV is indeed possible, it does also mean that it is difficult to duplicate successfully.

The investigators published their report on Tuesday in the international journal of science “Nature” stating that “A person with HIV seems to be free of the virus after receiving a stem-cell transplant that replaced their white blood cells with HIV-resistant versions.” The article also goes into further detail on the aggressive treatment plan and how they are still waiting to see if the patient’s blood will remain HIV free for longer.

The bigger concern is, now that they have found cures in countries such as Germany and England, when will this groundbreaking research take effect in the United States?

There are approximately 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. With many advancements on prevention for the virus with medications such as Pep and PrEP, a cure on the market could change the lives of millions.

“With there being only two successful cases, I honestly don’t feel hopeful that this new discovery will affect people living with HIV in the US anytime soon,” said Mariah Depass, a 26-year-old Florida A&M alumna who was born with HIV. “I remember seeing articles like this as a child and being excited about a possible cure, but now the news doesn’t excite me the way it used to,” Depass added.

The aggressive treatment plan is not going to be something that the millions affected with the virus will be able to undergo. The treatment plan according to the medical journal released on Tuesday, would include radiation treatment similar to chemotherapy in cancer patients as well as a blood transfusion from donors who had a rare form of a gene mutation.

“Chemotherapy and radiation is already a high risk treatment plan so to add in an even higher risked procedure like a blood transfusion would take a great toll on the human body,” said Shakisha Curry, a licensed nurse practitioner in the Tallahassee community. “Anyone that would go through that treatment plan is looking at a very long road to recovery,” Curry added.

The procedure is also very extensive so the cost associated with it is predicted to be costly. This will be the cause of an accessibility issue. HIV/AIDS more often affects individuals of lower economic class. Because the cure is set to be in the form of a high risk, blood transfusion surgery, the likelihood of it being accessible to individuals of lower economic means is low.

“Accessibility has always been an issue when it comes to lower income families getting proper healthcare,” said Camille Young, case manager at a local HIV/AIDS advocacy organization, Big Bend Cares. “The problem with this is that many people affected with HIV/AIDS don’t have many financial resources, so they would in turn be neglected care,” she added.

For more information on the ground-breaking research, click on the link to the medical journal published on Tuesday.