Doctors in South Africa have performed a medical first, transplanting part of the liver from a HIV-positive mother to her sick child in a groundbreaking case.

The doctors at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg revealed that one year after the operation, the child still 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 at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre performed what it said was the first liver transplant from a mother living with HIV to her HIV-negative child, who was close to death after waiting six months for a donor.

They said that the mother and child, who have not been identified, have fully recovered and are in good health. After transplants, liver remaining in the donor is able to regenerate rapidly.

The mother, who is being successfully treated with antiretroviral (ART) medication, had repeatedly asked to donate her liver to save her child’s life, posing a major ethical debate for doctors due to the risk of HIV transmission.

“The transplant team faced the dilemma of saving the child’s life whilst at the same time knowing that the child might end up HIV positive,” the university added. “The actual chance of transmitting HIV was unknown.”

“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 press release.

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  • What a tough decision to have to make. I think I would have chosen the liver donation at least the child is still alive.


  • Lets hope the surgery was successful and the baby is given the right drugs to prevent rejection of the new liver. The Mother’s liver obviously didn’t show signs of damage when the surgery was performed.


  • A child with HIV is always a winner over letting a child die.


  • A hard decision for doctors – but better to give the baby a chance.


  • I guess I’d rather be alive and have HIV that can be managed with medication than dead!


  • Glad to hear the operation went well and the outlook for transmission from the donor organ is positive. As HIV isn’t always fatal and many can live good lives with the right meds, this was the only choice for life for this child. I’m glad they thought life was more important than possible infection.


  • Thank God the operation was successful and I hope & pray it continues to be.
    Really amazing !


  • Considering HIV isn’t guaranteed to be fatal, the child would have died without a new liver and having already been waiting for 6 months, I can understand why the Mother and doctors went ahead with it. Fingers crossed the medicine they gave baby stops the contraction of HIv


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