The announcement that a second person appeared to be cured of the AIDS virus marked a seminal breakthrough in healthcare. But perhaps nowhere was the was the announcement greeted warmer than HIV-infected Black people, who account for a disproportionate number of those diagnosed with the sexually transmitted disease that breaks down your immunity system.
“A person with HIV appears to be free of the virus after receiving a stem-cell transplant that replaced their white blood cells with HIV-resistant versions,” the Nature journal published on Monday.
While “researchers warn that it is too early to say that they have been cured,” major news outlets, like the Associated Press, were reporting it as a “cure” in part because the same procedure was successfully used on an American man — Timothy Brown — 12 years ago.
The breakthrough “shows the cure of Timothy Brown was not a fluke and can be recreated,” Dr. Keith Jerome of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle told the AP.
“The patient — whose identity hasn’t been disclosed — was able to stop taking antiretroviral drugs, with no sign of the virus returning 18 months later,” Nature wrote.
Scientists have been working toward a cure for AIDS for all of the decades the disease has ripped through humanity. Over that period of time, Black people have always accounted for a lopsided number of new diagnoses and existing cases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put that data point in perspective: “In 2017, blacks/African Americans accounted for 13% of the US population but 43% (16,694) of the 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas.”
New infections among young, gay Black men have been increasing at an alarming rate. But there was reportedly a significant reason for alarm among Black women, in particular, too.
“After gay men and transgender women of any race, who have the highest risk of infection, black women are the group most vulnerable to HIV,” according to the CDC.
The announcement of an apparent cure could help change those statistics, although that was still a big “if” as of Tuesday.
“Such transplants are dangerous and have failed in other patients,” the AP reported. “They’re also impractical to try to cure the millions already infected.”
Even if the stem cell transplants are not realistic options for some people, treatment for HIV and AIDS has made some serious progress and remained a viable option for living with the disease.
“We need to confront HIV in the African American community head-on, using our very best tools and strategies,” said Eugene McCray, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “In addition to enabling people living with HIV to live longer and healthier lives, we now know that effective treatment can also greatly reduce the chances of passing the virus to others. This means that providing medical care and treatment could do more than anything else to both protect the health of people living with HIV and prevent new infections.”