Natural resistance

Published: Monday 15 December 1997

-- (Credit: Sanjay Ghosh)two prostitutes in Kenya have a surprising resistance to aids . Researchers at a clinic in the Majengo slum on the outskirts of Nairobi say that Hawa Chelangat, 34, and Hadija Chemutai, 31, are immune to hiv . They are cousins, divorced, desperately poor and have been working as prostitutes in the Majengo slum for the last 14 years. More than half of the world's 23 million hiv -infected people live in Africa and the virus has infected 95 per cent of prostitutes in the Majengo slum. But the cousins, who have visited the clinic since 1985, have remained hiv -negative for the last three-four years despite being in the high-risk group.

"We are calling it resistant. We are not calling it immune, but we have a lot of evidence that their immune systems are able to recognise and kill the hiv virus," said Frank Plummer, a physician from the University of Manitoba who is also the principal researcher at the clinic. That the prostitutes are cousins is very important as the researchers have strong evidence that hiv -resistance clusters in families. If the source of the prostitutes' protection can be identified, it could result in the creation of a vaccine against aids.

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