US baby HIV-free thanks to drugs available in Vietnam

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A baby apparently cured of HIV infection in the US through the use of readily available drugs has raised the hopes of the parents of infants in Vietnam that received HIV tests soon after being born, a doctor has said.

"If everything [about the recovery of the American baby] is confirmed, we will no longer worry about HIV/AIDS among Vietnamese newborns. Because once infected, they can be treated in a short time instead of using drugs for their whole life," the Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper quoted Truong Huu Khanh of Ho Chi Minh City's Children Hospital 1 as saying.

In a medical first for infants, a baby born with HIV in Mississippi in July of 2010 was treated within 30 hours of delivery with an aggressive HIV therapy, which continued for 18 months, Reuters reported.

She is now considered HIV-free, the newswire quoted a team of researchers led by Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as saying. Persaud made the announcement at a news conference at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on March 3.

Khanh, who is a member of the Vietnam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control, said the case lends support to the idea that early treatment of HIV is better.

"We begin to treat infants infected with HIV when they are between 1.5-2 months old. And the [level of] HIV in their blood reduces significantly. In some cases, it is difficult to find traces of HIV in their blood using common tests," he said.

Khanh said doctors should tests infants suspected of having HIV earlier than the current protocol, which calls for the testing when babies are one month old.

"Early treatment is not difficult because the three drugs given to the baby in the US are the same as those we use in Vietnam. They are available and inexpensive."

Khanh said Vietnam has between 4,000 and 5,000 documented cases of children infected with HIV.

"But the actual number may be more than 10,000," he added.

In related news, the National Committee for AIDS, Drugs, and Prostitution Prevention and Control said at a teleconference on March 5 that HIV infections have increased over the past five years and are now present within 98 percent of districts nationwide.

HCMC has nearly 51,000 people living with HIV, the most in Vietnam. Hanoi is next with 19,987 reported cases. Last year, there were 2,721 new HIV cases in HCMC and 751 in Hanoi.

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