Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Faced with the only chance to save a child’s life, doctors at the University of Witwatersrand performed a medical first — transplanting part of the liver from an HIV-positive mother to her HIV-negative child.

The doctors at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre revealed that, one year after the operation, the child may not have caught the virus from her new liver.

The child had a terminal liver disease and would have died without the transplant.

Medication given to the child "may have prevented the transmission of HIV. However, we will only know this conclusively over time," said Jean Botha, chief surgeon at the university.

The team of doctors performed the world’s first liver transplant from a mother with HIV to her critically ill HIV-negative child, who had waited 180 days for a donor.

They said the mother and child, who have not been identified, have fully recovered and are in good health.

The mother, who was being successfully treated with antiretroviral medication, had repeatedly asked to donate her liver to save her child’s life, posing an ethical dilemma due to the risk of HIV transmission.

"We hope that this ground-breaking operation will be the first of many like it and will contribute towards promoting justice and equity in liver transplantation," June Fabian, research director at the university’s medical centre, said in a media release.

A paper detailing the case was published on Thursday in the peer-reviewed AIDS medical journal.