In the wake of reports that a second person appears to have been cured of HIV, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday The Bahamas has made a commitment to try to be the first country in the world to eradicate HIV.
Sands’ comments followed global headlines that a London man appears to be free of HIV after receiving a stem-cell transplant that replaced his white blood cells with HIV-resistant versions.
The case was published on Monday by the Nature journal.
Speaking to reporters outside Cabinet on the matter, Sands said, “As you can imagine this was a landmark revelation, a landmark report. This was the second patient who has been documented to be HIV free after bone marrow transplantation. Now understand that getting a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplantation is a big deal.
“…Even though this is landmark, it is certainly not ready for primetime and it is certainly not the approach that we would want to take for people, everybody suffering with HIV.
“But I will say, The Bahamas has made the commitment to try to be the first country to eradicate HIV in the world.
“So we have now looked at whether we can become, once again, world leader…in [reducing] vertical transmission or mother to child transmission of HIV. We kind of lost some ground.
“We now believe that with modifying our approach to HIV to make sure that everybody is tested, to make sure that everybody that is tested has access to therapy and that the therapy suppresses the virus, that by certainly 2030 we believe The Bahamas will be, if not the first country, certainly among the first countries to eliminate HIV as a scourge, and that is a real goal.”
According to the journal, the London patient has not been identified. He was able to stop taking antiretroviral drugs, with no sign of the virus returning 18 months later.
The same technique was first used for Timothy Ray Brown, known as the ‘Berlin patient’, who is still free of the virus.
However, researchers warned that it is too early to say that they have been cured.
There are currently 5,500 people diagnosed with HIV in The Bahamas, according to the health minister.
Sands has said that as The Bahamas pushes towards the 90-90-90 initiative, there is going to be an escalating demand for testing ability, lab reagents and lab equipment.
The 90-90-90 initiative is a part of the UNAIDS global action plan of embarking on fast-track strategies to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The initiative sets out to ensure that 90 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status; 90 percent of people living with HIV and eligible for treatment are on antiretroviral therapy; and 90 percent of people living with HIV on treatment achieve viral suppression.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications