HIV alarm

Ac­cord­ing to the NGO Doc­tors with­out Borders, Kwazulu-natal has one of the high­est HIV in­fec­tion rates in the world. About 25.2% of the prov­ince’s adult pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing with the virus, in com­par­i­son to a na­tional aver­age of 17.9%.

The Citizen (KZN) - - FRONT PAGE - Jevanne Gibbs – je­van­neg@cit­i­zen.co.za.

But one woman is found with broadly neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies that kill HIV.

KwaZulu-Natal continues to have one of the high­est HIV in­fec­tion rates in the world, ac­cord­ing to NGO Doc­tors with­out Borders (MSF). About 25.2% of the prov­ince’s adult pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing with the virus, com­pared to a na­tional aver­age of 17.9%.

A re­port by MSF, based on sur­veys in Eshowe and Mbon­gol­wane, in­di­cated that women were still the most af­fected by the dis­ease, with 56% of women aged be­tween 30 to 39-years-old cur­rently liv­ing with HIV.

MSF field co-or­di­na­tor in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Matthew Reid, said in­fec­tion rates were al­most twice as high in women (31%) as in men (16%).

“Cov­er­age or treat­ment was 75%, which is a good num­ber. That’s high, show­ing that in that area the work that’s been done by the govern­ment has been ef­fec­tive in reach­ing the people that need treat­ment,” said Reid.

The sur­vey found that more than 85% of those in­ter­viewed had been tested for HIV at least six months ear­lier.

About 75% of those found to be HIV-pos­i­tive had been aware of their sta­tus.

A study by the Cen­tre for the Aids Pro­gramme of Re­search in SA ( Caprisa) re­vealed pos­si­bil­i­ties for fu­ture HIV preven­tion and treat­ment.

This came af­ter it was dis­cov­ered that a KwaZulu-Natal woman’s body had re­sponded to her HIV in­fec­tion by mak­ing po­tent an­ti­bod­ies called broadly neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies. These an­ti­bod­ies were able to kill mul­ti­ple strains of HIV from across the world.

Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil pres­i­dent and Caprisa con­sor­tium leader Pro­fes­sor Salim Ab­dool Karim said the new in­sights gained from the KwaZulu-Natal woman into im­mune re­sponses against HIV brought hope for fu­ture HIV preven­tion and treat­ment strate­gies.

“This woman, re­ferred to as Caprisa 256, is do­ing well on an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy and continues to at­tend the Caprisa clinic reg­u­larly,” said Karim.

Pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Na­ture, the study de­scribed how the re­search team found and iden­ti­fied the broadly neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies in the woman’s blood, and du­pli­cated them by cloning the an­ti­bod­ies in the lab­o­ra­tory. The cloned an­ti­bod­ies were then used in a se­ries of ex­per­i­ments in the lab­o­ra­tory to re­veal the path­way fol­lowed by the woman’s im­mune sys­tem to make these po­tent an­ti­bod­ies.

Leading Wits Univer­sity sci­en­tist Dr Penny Moore said broadly neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies had a num­ber of un­usual fea­tures.

Pa­tient’s an­ti­bod­ies had “long arms” en­abling them to reach through the su­gar coat that pro­tects HIV Dr Penny Moore Wits Univer­sity sci­en­tist

“The outer cov­er­ing of HIV has a coat­ing of sug­ars that pre­vents an­ti­bod­ies from reach­ing the sur­face to neu­tralise the virus. This pa­tient’s an­ti­bod­ies had ‘long arms’, which en­abled them to reach through the su­gar coat that pro­tects HIV,” said Moore.

“We dis­cov­ered that some HIV an­ti­bod­ies are born with ‘ long arms’, re­quir­ing less time and fewer changes to be­come ef­fec­tive in killing HIV.”

Broadly neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­bod­ies had pre­vi­ously been shown to be ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing and treat­ing HIV in­fec­tion in an­i­mals. This had never be­fore been shown in hu­mans.

Health Min­is­ter Dr Aaron Mot­soaledi com­mended the re­search. “Since South Africa has the largest bur­den of HIV in­fec­tion glob­ally, we are grat­i­fied to see South African sci­en­tists, un­der Pro­fes­sor Karim’s lead­er­ship, un­der­take this re­search to find so­lu­tions that will bring an end to Aids,” Mot­soaledi said. “We are hope­ful this re­search takes us a step closer to de­vel­op­ing an Aids vac­cine.”

Grow­ing con­cerns over more HIV-pos­i­tive people de­vel­op­ing re­sis­tance to fi rst-line an­tiretro­vi­ral (ARV) drugs has put the spot­light on the af­ford­abil­ity of much needed sec­ond-line and third-line ARVs.

This re­sulted in over 1 000 health ac­tivists from Gaut­eng tak­ing to the streets of Pre­to­ria on Tues­day to de­mand the com­ple­tion of the Na­tional Pol­icy on In­tel­lec­tual Property with the in­cor­po­ra­tion of pub­lic health safe­guards, as set out by the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try.

Treat­ment Ac­tion Cam­paign se­nior re­searcher Lotti Rut­ter said the depart­ment’s di­rec­tor of pol­icy re­ceived the group’s me­moran­dum of de­mands and feed­back was ex­pected soon.

MSF ac­cess ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer Ju­lia Hill said the laws needed to fa­cil­i­tate ac­cess to lower-cost gener­ics be­cause when medicines are un­af­ford­able, people pay with their lives.

Pic­tures: Thoban Jap­pie.

WHAT COST? Health ac­tivists want sec­ond and third-line ARVs to be af­ford­able.

TAC CALLS FOR AC­TION. Feed­back ex­pected from govern­ment soon.

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