At the beginning of the treatment, the child had very high virus levels, which makes the achievement even more impressive. "But the fact that this remission has extended over such a long period it means that it can be sustainable", revealed co-author and Witwatersrand University professor Avy Violari. Current HIV drugs keep the virus under control but are required to be taken lifelong.
The trial in 2007 enrolled infants infected with HIV at birth, who were randomly assigned either to just 40 weeks of antiretroviral drugs or else to 96 weeks.
"The parallels between HIV persistence and cancer are striking", said Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, former president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), which is hosting a week-long conference in Paris.
While the case bears similarities to the Mississippi Baby - whose remission lasted 27 months before the virus returned - and the French child, the doctors say they've never seen such a finite and controlled burst of therapy deliver results like this before. The treatment lasted for 40 weeks.
"Early HIV therapy, in both children and adults, has been shown to reduce some of the damage to the immune system that HIV causes in the first few weeks and months of infection", Dr. Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust who was not directly involved in the study, told The Independent.
Early therapy which attacks the virus before it has a chance to fully establish itself has been implicated in child "cure" cases twice before.
The researchers estimate that if the drugs were given to every patient in sub-Saharan Africa starting anti-HIV treatment and suffering from a low immune cell count, they could prevent around 10,000 deaths each year, The Guardian reported. But researchers believe there may be something else besides the early drug treatment that contributed.
"The researchers detected a trace of immune system response to the virus, but found no HIV capable of replicating", the NIH statement said.
It also contained an extensive analysis of the targets set for 2020 when 90% of all HIV-infected people should know their status, 90% of all HIV-diagnosed people should be able to access anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and 90% of those taking ART have virally suppressed HIV.
Donor government funding to support HIV efforts in low- and middle-income countries decreased to $7 billion a year ago from $7.5 billion in 2015, the lowest level since 2010, said a report published last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation and UNAIDS.
"That could be a signal of something we don't understand but might become a target for future treatments", explains Cotton. In 2013, researchers reported the case of a baby born with HIV in MS who was treated with anti-HIV drugs just 30 hours after birth.
Of the total infected population, more than two million were children younger than 15, said UNAids.
HIV, which is known to affect more than 36.7 million people worldwide, is one of the deadliest viruses around today - since it was discovered, it's taken the lives of more than 35 million victims, according to the World Health Organization.