Babies on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment may be able to take breaks from ARVs without compromising their health, sparing them from toxic side effects and drug resistance.
"Breaks" from HIV treatment could help reduce drug resistance in children, who have fewer ARV treatment options than adults, and reduce side effects in the long term, according to Dr Mark Cotton, the study's lead author and Tygerburg Hospital's head of paediatric infectious diseases.
In 2007, early results from the five-year study found early ARV treatment for HIV-positive babies cut risk of death by 75 percent. These results prompted a global rethink on HIV treatment and helped South Africa usher in early treatment for all HIV-positive infants less than one year old in 2011.
Now, the study's final results confirm the benefits of early treatment, but may also pave the way for more changes to infant ARV treatment and research into a cure in the distant future.
Conducted among 377 HIV-positive infants, the randomised controlled clinical trial tested whether babies who started ARVs at about two months old could safely interrupt their treatment with careful monitoring. Babies in the study were placed on ARVs and then stopped at either 10 months or two years. Babies were restarted on treatment if their CD4 counts fell to less than 1000.
At the end of the trial, about half of the babies who had interrupted treatment were still well enough to remain off ARVs.