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HIV-positive mother donates liver to critically ill child

JOHANNESBURG — Doctors in South Africa say they transplanted part of a liver from a mother with HIV to her critically ill but HIV-negative child, concluding that the chance to save a life outweighed the risk of virus transmission.

The mother and the child recovered after the 2017 transplant, though it is not yet known whether the child has the virus that causes AIDS, according to the team from the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.

The University of the Witwatersrand experts explained the procedure in an article published Thursday in the journal AIDS. The university said it was ‘‘believed to be the world’s first intentional liver transplant’’ from a donor with HIV to a recipient without the virus, and that its success opens the way to ‘‘a potential new pool of living donors that could save additional lives.’’


Medication provided to the child before the transplant may have prevented HIV transmission, though that will only become clear over time, the experts said. A liver from a donor without HIV was not available.

The mother had asked on a number of occasions if she could donate part of her liver to save her child’s life, and the medical team explained the risks to her, according to the university.

‘‘In the weeks after the transplant, we thought that the child was HIV positive, because we detected HIV antibodies,’’ transplant surgeon Jean Botha said in a statement. But more testing by HIV experts at South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases did not find any active HIV infection in the child.