HIV-Positive Person Donates a Kidney for the First Time Ever

Researchers hope this will help expand the organ donor pool and further combat the stigma against HIV.

In the latest medical breakthrough in HIV/AIDS research, surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore have successfully transplanted a kidney from a living HIV-positive donor to an HIV-positive recipient, reports The Washington Post.

The donor, a 35-year-old woman named Nina Martinez, and the recipient, who chose to remain anonymous, are both in recovery after the surgery, which took place earlier this week. It appears to be a success, as the recipient no longer needs dialysis treatment. However, both Martinez and the recipient will need to be closely monitored following the surgeries and will remain on antiretroviral medication until further notice.

Until this case, people living with HIV were largely considered to be unfit donors for kidney transplants, since the virus and the medications used to keep it in check can increase the risk of kidney disease.

However, Hopkins researchers reported in a 2017 study that healthy HIV-positive people weren’t actually at a significantly higher risk of developing kidney disease when compared to unhealthy HIV-negative people, like heavy smokers or drinkers. According to The Post, Martinez was in excellent health leading up to the surgery with an undetectable viral load.

The surgeons who pioneered the groundbreaking transplant told The Post that they hope this case will help destigmatize HIV and expand the organ donor pool for people living with HIV. And Martinez, who became HIV-positive after a blood transfusion she received as an infant, said she’s glad to be a part of medical history: “Society perceives me and people like me as people who bring death. And I can’t figure out any better way to show that people like me can bring life.”

According to The Baltimore Sun, there’s no count of how many HIV-positive people are on America’s waiting list for organ transplants, which totals more than 113,000 people. That’s because HIV-positive people can receive transplants for HIV-negative people just like any other patient.

News of the successful procedure at John Hopkins comes just weeks after a handful of major breakthroughs in the fight to cure HIV: Earlier this month, the second and third patients in history were reportedly “cured” of HIV following cancer-related bone marrow transplants from donors with an HIV-resistant genetic mutation.

That cure isn’t expected to be applicable to HIV-positive people across the board, since bone marrow transplants are risky and involved procedures; however, the cases in question have inspired medical researchers around the world to continue combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV. Despite these numbers—and hard-to-believe pledges from the Trump administration to “end the HIV epidemic” by 2030—the President has repeatedly slashed government funding for crucial HIV/AIDS research.

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