Faced with the only chance to save a child’s life, doctors in South Africa have performed a medical first — transplanting part of the liver from a HIV-positive mother to her HIV-negative child, it was announced Thursday.
The doctors at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg revealed that, one year after the operation, the child may not have caught the virus from her new liver.
The child had a terminal liver disease and would have died without the transplant.
Medication given to the child “may have prevented the transmission of HIV. However, we will only know this conclusively over time,” said Jean Botha, chief surgeon at the university.
The team of doctors performed the world’s first liver transplant from a mother living with HIV to her critically-ill HIV-negative child, who had been waiting 180 days for a donor.
They said that the mother and child, who have not been identified, have fully recovered and are in good health.
The mother, who was being successfully treated with antiretroviral medication, had repeatedly asked to donate her liver to save her child’s life — posing a major ethical dilemma for doctors due to the risk of HIV transmission.
South Africa has the world’s largest HIV treatment programme and the use of HIV-positive donors could help tackle the severe overall shortage of donors.
In 2017, 14 children waiting for liver transplants in Johannesburg died before having the operation.
“We hope that this ground-breaking operation will be the first of many like it and will contribute towards promoting justice and equity in liver transplantation,” June Fabian, research director at the university’s medical centre, said in a press release.
A paper detailing the case was published on Thursday in the peer-reviewed AIDS medical journal.