This year's World Aids Day will take place under the national theme Cheka Impilo (Know Your Status). The theme calls for HIV-testing programmes to be expanded and for novel and innovative approaches to HIV testing. Photo: EPA
Cape Town – A decade ago Groote Schuur Hospital pioneered the first HIV-positive to HIV-positive kidney transplant and the recipient is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her surgery.

Port Elizabeth resident Nombuyiselo Skafu is in Cape Town to celebrate the anniversary of the operation at the hospital today. 

She said: “I was very ill, I was getting infections, I was in and out of hospital and the dialysis was (not) working so well for me until I was introduced to Dr (Elmi) Muller.

"I knew it was something that would help me and I was happy to take that chance. After that everything went well and I even run now, I participated in the Transplant Games earlier this year. I am happy and healthy and proof that it is possible.”

Today she will be among 30 former patients who had the operations. The hospital will be celebrating these ground-breaking operations ahead of World Aids Day, which will be marked globally tomorrow.

Hospital spokesperson Alaric Jacobs said the HIV-positive transplantation programme had been a necessary initiative in South Africa.

“The challenge with dialysis in the state sector is that it is limited to good transplant candidates. Sadly, up to 2008 it was believed that HIV-positive patients would not be good transplant candidates. This meant that they were not accepted on to dialysis programmes.

"The decision to transplant HIV-positive patients with HIV-positive kidneys was not taken lightly.”

It had been a difficult decision by Professor Muller, who needed the backing of the medical community, said Jacobs.

Muller started her HIV-positive transplant programme in 2008 and performed the first transplant in September that year. Ten years later, 51 HIV-positive recipients have received kidneys from HIV-positive donors.

“Over the last 10 years we have employed a research team to investigate risk and outcomes in patients enrolled in the programme. 

"We have looked at the risk of super-infection (transmission of a new and possibly resistant strain of HIV from donor to recipient), kidney rejection, kidney failure and death," said Muller.

"The outcome of kidney transplantation in our HIV-positive patients has recently been reviewed and is in line with results from high-risk recipients receiving HIV-negative donors.

"The positive outcomes have also been attributed to good donor selection and robust clinical monitoring and support post-transplantation.”