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  • Pregnancy Then and Now

    July 18th, 2014


    by Janet Madsen  |  @janet_madsen

    When I began working in AIDS support and education in 1993 (we used the term AIDS all the time, as it was a reality), pregnancy was something women were mourning. Once diagnosed, they were told by doctors flat out, “Don’t get pregnant.” Back then, we didn’t know as much as we do now about HIV, pregnancy, and healthy babies. What we did know is that about one in four babies born to moms with HIV would get it themselves. pregnancy_gaborfromhungary_morguefile

    In 1994, the results of the ACTG 076 clinical trial came out. Pregnant women using AZT (which would never be prescribed as a single drug nowadays) were significantly less likely to have babies with HIV than those who didn’t take it. Only 8% of these babies were born infected.

    Women began to have cautious hope and explore ways of getting pregnant safely. Babies were born healthy and thrived. Some families expanded to two or three kids.

    Fast forward to combination therapy, and the transmission risk for pregnant women’s babies is about 1%. Doctors routinely support women to plan their pregnancies and deliver healthy kids. With advances in HIV therapy for the moms, they can expect to see their kids grow up. Moms can be so healthy they may even become grandmothers, depending on if and when their kids become parents.

    And now we’re even considering whether babies can be cured. The “Mississippi Baby” hit the headlines first. Her mom hadn’t had prenatal care, so her HIV status was unknown until birth. She was given combination therapy within 31 hours of birth, and her mom was later lost to follow-up. Miraculously, when the mom reappeared in the health care system, her daughter still tested negative even though she hadn’t been on the treatment for some time. Sadly, she’s now four years old and has shown signs that HIV is rebounding. She’s been put back on treatment.

    Canadian kids treated immediately following birth are showing similar uninfected statuses, but they have not been taken off medication. Another who had side effects did go off treatment, and HIV established itself firmly, unfortunately. These results are making scientists really explore what HIV treatment can do for newly infected people. Could catching HIV soon enough and treating it aggressively be a way to a cure?

    There will be more on this at AIDS 2014, so keep your eyes out. Babies may lead the way!

    Photo: GaborFromHungary, MorgueFile

    AIDS Down Under  

    July 10th, 2014


    by Janet Madsen  |  @janet_madsen

    The 20th International AIDS Conference is fast approaching. People are packing their bags and preparing for Australian winter- a predicted average of  10-16 degrees, so Torontonians can relax at the word “winter”. Melbourne Australia, meet AIDS 2014.  AIDS logo

    The Melbourne Declaration details the meeting’s goals, including:

    “We affirm that all women, men, transgender and intersex adults and children are entitled to equal rights and to equal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment information and services.”

    Star sightings will include Former US President Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof among others. There will be an art show chronicling the early days of HIV activism of Melbourne’s queer community and includes artwork as well as other responses. And of course there will be the science of HIV research and outcomes.

    What is expected to be big research news this year? The whisper of a cure gets louder, even if it’s not the one we imagined. Babies testing positive at birth (independent of antibody testing) and put on combo treatment immediately are showing no signs of the virus. Will this be how we interpret cure for those whose infection is caught early enough? This could be just one of top stories.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation is holding a press briefing tomorrow to highlight the stories they predict will make headlines. We’ll see how it unrolls, and keep you in the loop. If you’re on Twitter, following #AIDS2014 is another way to stay on track.