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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs