JACKSON, Miss. (BP)—Faith and godly compassion are guiding principles in the life of Hannah Gay, the University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatrician at the forefront of the reported cure of HIV in a 2-year-old girl born with the disease in rural Mississippi.
Gay and her husband Paul served as Southern Baptist representatives in the Horn of Africa 25 years ago as HIV was taking root there, but Gay’s interest in the disease is driven more by a desire to achieve the best for children, rather than a desire to find a cure, her husband told Baptist Press.
“[Faith] influences every area of her practice. Hannah ministers through everything she touches. Her ministry is supported and guided by prayer,” Paul Gay said. “The affection, the love that she has for the families and the children, the commitment she has, all from her faith. She has a dedication that flows from her relationship with God and I think that has attracted a team to work with her who share her commitment.”
A longtime advocate of early antiretroviral intervention for babies born with HIV, Gay is being credited with achieving the “functional cure” of a baby born to an HIV-infected mother. Knowing the baby’s high risk of being born with the disease, compounded by results of viral load tests, Gay began an aggressive treatment of the child 30 hours after birth and continued the therapy for the next 18 months.
Today, 10 months after the child’s last therapy, she continues to test negative for HIV, according to research Gay and a team of doctors from Maryland and Massachusetts presented March 4 at the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
The breakthrough is being hailed by the medical community as a functional cure that could lead to the elimination of HIV in children.
“In contrast to a sterilizing cure—a complete eradication of all viral traces from the body—a functional cure occurs when viral presence is so minimal it remains undetectable by standard clinical tests, yet discernible by ultrasensitive methods,” UMMC said in a news release on its website.
Attending the Atlanta conference through Thursday (March 7), Gay is limiting media contact. But in an interview with CNN, she said the full implications of the singular case are not clear.
“It will take a long time of studying and seeing if we can replicate this outcome in other babies before we can say yes, we’ve got a definite cure,” Gay told CNN. “Until that point, all children, and adults for that matter, who are on good therapy and are controlling their need to stay on that therapy.”
In an audio interview on UMMC’s website, Gay said her work in Mississippi has been very fulfilling.
“We’ve been very successful at keeping the rate of transmission very low, and ... we’re proud of that work and we continue to focus on prevention of HIV in children,” Gay said.
During Gay’s time as a Baptist worker in the Horn of Africa, AIDS was becoming an epidemic there, her husband Paul told Baptist Press from the couple’s home near Jackson, Miss.
“There [were] just huge numbers coming out of Uganda and some frightening numbers coming out of Kenya about HIV. There was great work going on in Uganda to try to get some kind of handle on the massive problem. A third of the adult population in Uganda was infected with HIV back at that time,” Paul Gay said.
In Ethiopia, the government denied there was a problem, he said.
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