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Kenyans excited of HIV ‘cure’ news

George Kebaso @Morarak

It is a ray of hope for HIV/Aids patients after reports in London indicated that a second man has been cleared of the virus.

Doctors in London, according to a report featured in the Reuters news outlet, said an adult HIV-positive man was cleared of the virus after he received a bone marrow transplant from a HIV-resistant donor.

And Kenyan advocates in the fight against HIV/Aids are happy with the news and hope that ongoing HIV vaccine trials since 2014 will give positive outcomes at the end of the day.

Encouraging news

Yesterday, National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/Aids in Kenya executive director, Nelson Otwoma, said even if the cure for the killer disease is yet to be found, it is encouraging news that the various experiments across the globe are eventually bearing fruit.

“In Kenya, we have the ongoing HIV vaccine trials, and we look forward to the announcement of preliminary results in the next two to three years,” he told People Daily after news of the London achievement dominated news wires across the globe yesterday.

However, Otwoma described the cure as an antiretroviral therapy remission, where the HIV reservoir is not completely eradicated but altering the immune system to induce long-term control of HIV.

Address infection

Researchers have made several attempts to manipulate the immune system with interventions that target HIV and HIV-infected cells or that change the behaviour of immune cells to better address the infection.

The London man received bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection – and more than 18 months after he came off antiretroviral drugs – highly sensitive tests still show no trace of his previous infection.

“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything,” said Ravindra Gupta, a professor and a HIV biologist who co-led a team of doctors treating the man according to Reuters.

Experts said the case is a proof of the concept that scientists will one day end the scourge, and marks a “critical moment” in the search for a HIV cure, but does not mean that cure has already been found.

Gupta described his patient as “functionally cured” and “in remission”, but cautioned: “It’s too early to say he’s cured.”

The man has been dabbed “the London patient”, in part because the first known case of a functional cure of HIV of an American man, Timothy Brown, who became known as the “Berlin patient” after undergoing a similar treatment in Germany in 2007.

About 1.5 million Kenyans are living with HIV/Aids as per 2015 estimates. Otwoma said although there has been a notable decline in new HIV infections, continued effort is still needed to develop an efficacious, accessible and affordable HIV vaccine.

HIV research

A thematic analysis was carried out on data obtained from four HIV clinical trials conducted at KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research in Nairobi from 2009 to 2015.

Responses were obtained from a questionnaire administered to the volunteers during their screening visit at the research site.

Of the 281 healthy, HIV-uninfected volunteers participating in this study; 38 per cent were motivated by personal benefits including, 31 per cent motivated by health benefits and seven per cent by possible financial gains.

In addition, 62 per cent of the volunteers were motivated by social benefits with 20 per cent sought to help their family while 42 per cent were interested in advancing research.

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