The Citizen (KZN)
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%.
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.