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Moment that mattered: A baby born with HIV is reportedly cured

Nepalese People light candles in the shape of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV, in Katmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. World AIDS Day will be marked across the world on Dec. 1. (AP Photo/Niranajan Shrestha)

I was excited to hear the news that it appears that the three-year-old child known as the ‘Mississippi baby’ has been cured of HIV. I’m glad to have another person in the club even though she’s still a baby and it will be some time before I can talk with her.

The physician, Dr Hannah Gay, did an amazing job – she was smart enough to administer antiretrovirals to the child as soon as they found out the baby was HIV positive. It’s an important step to discover that it’s possible to cure babies of the virus if they’re treated very early, and perhaps adults too.

I set up my foundation, the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, in partnership with the World AIDS Institute, and it was launched in July last year at the International AIDS Conference. Our mission includes awareness, education and support for full funding for cure research.  Our goal is to reach a stage where everybody in the world with HIV can be cured of the virus.

It was recently announced that two HIV-positive patients who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have been taken off antiretroviral therapy and currently have no detectable trace of HIV. This appears to be another big step in the right direction. In my case, I had my immune system completely destroyed and then rebuilt with a donor’s stem cells through a bone marrow transplant in order to treat my leukemia. The stem cells contained cell surface protein CCR5 Delta 32 negative, which prevents most strains of the HIV virus from entering a patient’s T cells, and the treatment also got rid of my HIV.

We have come a long way in the six years since I had the procedure that led to my cure, although I still think that more money needs to be spent on funding research. Countries like the US, Australia, China and the UK are leading the pack, but the push to find a cure needs a worldwide effort. There seems to be a widespread optimism among many medical scientists that there will be a cure for HIV one day soon, whether it’s a genetic cure, a vaccine or other approach – and I share their optimism. We are definitely getting closer.

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