A story of limited victoryby Sarah Boseley / August 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in September issue of Prospect Magazine
If Hannah Gay had wanted to be a world-famous scientist, she would probably not have chosen to make a career at the Blair E Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Mississippi, but with her desire to help the underprivileged sick, underpinned by a strong Christian faith, that is where she was working in the summer of 2010. It says much about the many problems that HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus) has caused researchers over some decades that a single decision taken by Gay when confronted with a possibly infected newborn baby propelled her into a limelight she had never sought. For 27 months, she was the HIV paediatrician who might have stumbled across the cure for Aids (acquired immune deficiency syndrome—the disease caused by HIV).
Gay, an associate professor of paediatrics and an HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, of which Batson is part, was called to see a baby brought in from a rural hospital because the mother had tested positive for HIV in labour. It is not a situation that so often occurs anymore in the United States or Europe. If antenatal tests pick up the virus, a pregnant woman is put on drugs that suppress it to very low levels in her blood, safeguarding the baby from infection at birth. Relatively few babies are now born with HIV in affluent countries. But this mother had not attended an antenatal clinic. She did not know she had HIV.