News / USA

    Pioneering Pediatrician Leads Charge to Cut Infant HIV Infections

    Arthur Ammann discovered that mothers could transmit HIV or AIDS to their babies through the placenta or breast-feeding

    California immunologist Arthur Ammann pioneered research that drastically cut the HIV infection rate of infants.
    California immunologist Arthur Ammann pioneered research that drastically cut the HIV infection rate of infants.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Jan Sluizer

    Arthur Ammann grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the son of working class German immigrants who had never finished grade school. But his parents supported his desire to go to college and become a doctor. And when he did, Ammann went on to lead a global charge to cut the HIV infection rate among infants.

    While in medical school Ammann found his calling in immunology. He learned how the body responds to infection and how to develop vaccines to protect people.  "Immunology was just emerging at the time I was completing my pediatric training," Ammann recalls. In 1971, he became the first pediatric immunologist at the University of California in San Francisco.

    Ammann develops effective pneumonia vaccine

    In the early 1970's, he and his colleagues were the first to complete clinical trials that led to FDA approval for the pneumococcal vaccine against pneumonia. He still considers that his greatest achievement.

    "The Gates foundation recently announced that they were donating $10 billion for vaccines, including a pneumococcal vaccine for children in poor countries," Amman says. "That's especially important now, as new, more dangerous flu strains emerge."

    "With the flu epidemic, people don't always die of the flu, the virus," he says. "They die of bacterial infection which is the pneumococcal infection. It's very important in this influenza epidemic to get the pneumococcal immunization to prevent pneumonia."

    A new killer disease emerges

    By the early 1980's, Ammann's clinic had started seeing babies with compromised immune systems. He realized that their condition was similar to the mysterious and deadly disease that was destroying the immune systems of young gay men. Ammann worked with some of the finest minds in medicine to learn more about this acquired immune deficiency that became known as AIDS.

    They soon learned that there was a much larger epidemic outside of the United States. "We began to get preliminary reports from developing countries. We realized what we seeing in the U.S. was just the tip of the iceberg," Ammann says.

    The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was identified in 1983 and a test for the virus in the blood was developed the next year. Since he had been successful at developing the pneumococcal vaccine, Ammann thought finding a vaccine for HIV would be a fairly uncomplicated process.
     
    But by 1985, frustrated by a shortage of research funds, Amman left his secure university post to join the biotechnology firm Genentech, where ample research resources were available. Seven years of work led to five patents but failed to produce an HIV vaccine.

    Ammann at work in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
    Ammann at work in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    A new strategy to fight HIV

    "The virus has something about it where we cannot respond to it. Our bodies are not genetically endowed with the ability to develop an immune response to this," Ammann says. Still, he remains optimistic that a vaccine will eventually be developed. "I think what the virus is telling us, with all the vaccine studies that have failed, is that we need to approach it very differently."

    One approach that has proven successful is treating HIV-positive mothers to prevent the transmission of the virus. Ammann discovered that if a pregnant woman is given anti-viral drugs, her baby is protected from contracting HIV. The anti-viral drugs are effective both in the womb and also during breast-feeding.

    Ammann says statistics confirm the treatment's effectiveness in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. "In the United States, we've gone from thousands of cases of infected babies to fewer than 100. It's almost eradicated in the United States."

    Ammann attributes many of the subsequent advances against AIDS to activists and advocates who demanded government funding for research and drugs to treat the disease.

    Cradle of Hope is a Global Strategies program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in Ghana.
    Cradle of Hope is a Global Strategies program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in Ghana.


    Focusing on the developing world

    As research brightened prospects for AIDS prevention and treatment in the United States, Ammann noticed the situation remained dire in developing nations. "The numbers we were getting from resource-poor countries were 1,600 babies infected every day. Every day. And that became for me another issue of justice and equity."

    Unable to secure funding to address that inequity, Ammann, who had worked with two AIDS research foundations after leaving Genentech, established his own organization in 1999. His group, Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, immediately went to work in major cities in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, China and India, among others.

    Ammann then turned his attention to rural communities, which were bearing the brunt of the epidemic often because of civil unrest or war.

    "We've got to pay attention now even to these unstable areas that have very little infrastructure," Ammann says. Since it's nearly impossible to find doctors and nurses to train in those areas, Ammann recommends a different approach. "We have to train community workers, mid-level health care workers to do what is being done in other locations."

    Looking ahead to new laws and new advances
     
    Global Strategies has raised more than $22 million toward HIV prevention, trained about 5,500 health care workers and provided HIV testing kits or drugs to 85,000 women in poor countries. Now the non-profit has started to advocate in the countries where it operates for stricter laws to protect women and children who are most at risk for HIV.

    Now 73, and retired from medical practice, Arthur Ammann remains active in the fight against AIDS.  He says he will keep going as long as he can because the need to protect women and children continues, because he finds the work rewarding and, he says, medical advances are too exciting for him to stop.

    You May Like

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.