Exclusive: interview with the second person in the world to be cured of HIV.

Exclusive: interview with the second person in the world to be cured of HIV.
Exclusive: interview with the second person in the world to be cured of HIV.

Adam Castillejo, known as the “London Patient,” is the second person in the world to be cured of HIV. During the BREACH Spring conference whose theme was “HIV Cure”, we had the opportunity to meet him for an exclusive interview.

Cases of recovery from HIV are rare. In total, six have been counted around the world, always following a bone marrow transplant. The case of Mr. Adam Castillejo is no exception. For the record, he was infected in 2003, then developed stage 4 lymphoma in 2012. His case required a bone marrow transplant, but given his status as a person living with HIV (PLHIV), no medical team wanted him. take charge. He was placed in a nursing home until Professor Ravi Gupta (Cambridge, UK) learned of his case and decided to treat him.

Adam, of Venezuelan origin, was to benefit from this bone marrow transplant, but a compatible donor was not easy to find. Finally, he was able to benefit from a marrow transplant from a donor with a double Delta-32 deletion. This prevents HIV from entering lymphocytes. Indeed, the doctors not only wanted to cure him of his cancer, but also of HIV. The virus is then unable to reproduce. In 2017, he stopped taking his antiretroviral treatments and in 2019, he was declared cured of the terrible virus.

How do you feel as a person recovered from HIV?
I am the same, but at the same time, I know that I am privileged and that I have a new goal in my life: that of being a bearer of hope. This is why I testify openly.

Are you no longer afraid of stigma?
You know, the stigma still exists against me, but it has evolved. I was stigmatized as a PLHIV, like all people living with this virus. With cancer, people felt a lot of compassion for me. Mentally, it’s very conflicting and complicated. Today, some PLHIV reject me, because as I am no longer HIV positive, they feel that I am no longer part of their community. However, I consider myself an HIV survivor.

Do you think a cure for HIV is possible?
This is one of the objectives that I pursue in testifying. But there are barriers. People are sometimes afraid of being cured of HIV because they identify with this disease now. […] I conducted a small survey during my travels by asking PLHIV from different countries/continents if they wanted to be completely cured. Overall, in Europe, North America and Australia, the answer is “no, but maybe yes”, because these PLHIV benefit from effective treatment. On the other hand, in Africa, South America and Asia, the people I met would like to be rid of it permanently.

What message would you like to give to health professionals regarding your situation?
I think it’s important to be transparent about curing HIV. When a patient asks a question about this, most are hesitant to answer. I would tell them: there is no completely curative treatment today, but we have to be realistic while remaining positive, because many researchers are working on this subject. It is important to preserve the confidence of PLHIV on this subject. It is a holistic, complex approach: let’s be realistic, but at the same time we can also give hope.

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