Doctors have made progress treating kids with AIDS

December 1, 2011 11:07:00 PM PST
Great progress has been made in this country in treating HIV and AIDS, especially when it comes to children. The disease has been all but eliminated among kids. Research scientists say HIV could soon be dramatically reduced among adults as well.

"We have new data that definitely tells us that by treating a person with HIV, first of all, it's good for that person, it keeps them healthy, but secondly, it reduces transmission to other sexual partners," Dr. Diane Havlir said.

Havlir is chief of the HIV/AIDS division at the UCSF Positive Health Program at San Francisco General Hospital. She says this country is at a defining moment in the AIDS epidemic.

Havlir's team proposed a ground breaking policy to offer treatment to HIV positive patients as soon as their infection is identified. It's been adopted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"You lower the level of HIV in the body and a person becomes less transmissible," Havlir said.

That's what's going on at Ward 86 at San Francisco General Hospital. It's nationally renowned for its care for HIV/AIDS adult patients.

There is also great news about HIV-infected mothers and their babies in this country.

"Since the middle of the 1990s, we've known how to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to children and to this point, almost eliminated in the U.S.," Dr. Ted Ruel said.

Ruel, a pediatric HIV expert, says the number of HIV-infected children overseas is a shockingly different story.

"Worldwide, that number is 2.5 million and a good 2.3 million live in sub-Saharan Africa," Ruel said.

Ruel works with Havlir's UCSF research program, helping children in sub-Saharan Africa in the Congo.

"One of the communities in which we are working has a prevalence of HIV that's 30 per cent, among adults, so if you were to be with your friends, and go: one, two, three, one of you would be living with HIV," Dr. Craig Cohen said.

Cohen is also with UCSF, trying to slow down the AIDS epidemic in Kenya. He says the U.S. recognizes AIDS overseas as a major health concern, and a matter of national security.

"If you have large segments of the population not productive economically and are dying, that creates instability within a government," Cohen said.

Cohen is involved in a program in Kenya called FACES, the Family AIDS Care and Education Service. He's collaborating with a California woman who founded the first summer camp for HIV- infected children in the United States.

"The first child that was diagnosed in the United States was in 1981, and when the summer camp began in 1988, we were seeing children usually not living beyond age 3," Geri Brooks said.

ABC7's Cheryl Jennings met Brooks in the 80s, when her Camp Sunburst had 150 kids infected with HIV. That number has dropped to just 15, thanks to medical miracles.

"It's so great seeing a lot of my younger kids move into adolescence and now some of them are having their own families and their children are HIV negative," Brooks said.

"The U.S. is a story of how good it can be, you do not have to have transmission from mother to children, it is a preventable phenomenon; that we really need to strive for, worldwide," Ruel said.

"I think we have done a fantastic job with adults, in terms of providing access to treatment that turns this from a fatal to a chronic disease," Havlir said.

But, even with all that knowledge there is still an aids crisis among adults in this country.

"There were 60,000 new infections of HIV in the U.S. last year alone, so we have over a million people living with the disease," Havlir said.

Doctors say there is no cure for HIV yet, and that's why it's so important to know your status, and that means getting tested.

"These tools we have right now can turn the tide, can put a dent, but, getting rid of the epidemic completely is going to require a vaccine or a cure," Havlir said.

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