Doctors at Guangzhou No. 8 People's Hospital in South China's Guangdong Province use blocking technology on a mother, bringing the baby's HIV/AIDS infection risk to nearly zero on December 2, 2018. Photo: VCG
For the past 17 years, Sun Lijun, director of the STD/AIDS department in Beijing You'an Hospital, a designated HIV/AIDS hospital, has witnessed the development of technology that allows families with HIV/AIDS to have healthy children.
Her research work on such cases is acknowledged in the international science community.
According to the National Health Commission (NHC), there were 850,000 HIV-infected people in China, with new annual infections of around 80,000, as of September 30, 2018.
In a letter of thanks to Sun, a 27-year-old Beijing-based dentist who is also Sun's patient expressed her gratitude to Sun during her pregnancy, when she was shocked to learn that she was HIV-positive.
With the support of family and friends, the patient abandoned suicidal tendency and decided to pursue treatment.
In her 12th week of pregnancy, the patient turned to Sun for help.
"With tears in her eyes, my mother asked Sun to help me and my baby when she saw Sun for the first time," the patient recalled.
In a letter written by the patient, she still remembers Sun's encouraging words. "After a few months of taking medicines, the viral load in your system will be controlled to a level that cannot be detected, and you can live like any other ordinary person."
The patient could not believe it when Sun told her that she could even have a second healthy child.
Sun told her the transmission of HIV could be blocked between mothers and children with a success rate of at least 98 percent.
After six months, the patient's virus load level was brought under control and no longer detected in her blood, which meant her baby was healthy and safe.
"Sun gave me a second life and brought hope to my family," the patient said.
The baby is now almost 1 year old and tests showed negative results. "Our family lives happily together every day," the mother wrote in the letter.
A new-born baby girl of an HIV affected mother at Guangzhou No. 8 People's Hospital in South China's Guangdong Province on December 2, 2018. Photo: VCG
Sun and her team strive to keep the HIV/AIDS mortality rate to 0.03 percent and the virus inhibition rate at 100 percent, which is the same as leading levels all over the world.
This progress makes having healthy children possible for families affected by HIV/AIDS.
According to China's Infectious Disease Law, hospitals are not allowed to treat HIV/AIDS affected patients with assisted reproduction, including artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization treatment.
In the last decade, Sun has led her team in following up on more than 2,000 cases. More than 700 new babies were born to couples affected by HIV, Sun told the Global Times.
In China, mother-to-child HIV transmission has now been effectively brought under control. The transmission rate of AIDS dropped from 7.1 percent in 2012 to 4.9 percent in 2017, the lowest level in history, according to data shared during the NHC press briefing.
More to do
A Beijing-based missile expert is another HIV-affected patient at Sun's hospital. In his letter to Sun written in October 2014, he reflected on how his life has changed.
In 2013, he walked into Sun's office, saying that he wanted to have a child.
"As a member of the positive group, I had basically sentenced myself to death when I learned the result. It had always been a luxury just to live a normal life, let alone have my own child," he said in a letter.
Sun conducted some checks for both the patient and his wife became pregnant while the couple was waiting for the results, a surprise that meant more anxiety for the family.
The results turned out to be within the safety range.
"I hope more people will be encouraged [by this letter], and that people can abandon their bias," he said.
China's HIV population infection rate is about nine cases per 10,000 people.
According to international standards, the AIDS epidemic in China is at a low prevalence level, but the distribution of the epidemic is not balanced, the NHC press briefing stressed.
Looking back at her tenure, Sun said that China started from scratch and is now offering full and free treatment packages for all HIV/AIDS affected citizens.
Sun said that despite medical innovations and personalized dose adjustments according to Chinese patients' characteristics, China is not yet the most advanced country in terms of HIV/AIDS treatment.
There is still a lot of work to do for HIV/AIDS affected people, especially in rural China, where more general practitioners are needed.Newspaper headline: From despair to hope