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University of Kentucky Alum discusses newly reported potential stem cell cure for HIV

HIV ribbon CNN 030419
Posted at 6:55 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 13:21:14-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Scientists say they've reached a major milestone in the fight against HIV. For the first time ever – a woman may have been cured of the virus.

A New York woman undergoing a stem cell transplant to fight HIV in October 2020 has not shown signs of the infection since.

"I wouldn't really call it a cure. Because I think it can’t really be expanded ...not yet anyway...it can’t be expanded to the 30 million people that are currently living with HIV. Right now, these are very specific cases. I think it could definitely serve as kind of a proof of concept," said Chioma Okafor, a graduate of the University of Kentucky's Public Health College.

Okafor grew up in Nigeria, where she says she experienced community members dying from the disease, and no one wanted to discuss it. Now, she works with an international non-profit -- Pact, where her work supports HIV/AIDS prevention.

"For me, public health has been very much eye-opening,” says Okafor. “I think that sometimes it's not just about health. Sometimes there are so many social determinants in a person's life that affect different aspects of their life."

While the new treatment does give hope for HIV patients leaders warn of the risk of stem cell treatments.

Okafor says, “This is not something that I think we are ready to put forward as this is treatment for 30 million people. I think that it’s very much in the early stages."

In 2019 the CDC reported that nearly 40,000 people in the US got an HIV diagnosis.

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Okafor says her work focuses not just on prevention but on the economic and mental impacts of the disease as well.

As for the treatment, Okafor says, "It's a step in the right direction. Maybe in the next year, maybe in the next five years, we will have something that will be more generalizable to the HIV-positive public."