Under the tutelage of Nobel Prizes, this Mexican doctor was part of the team that discovered the way of transmission of HIV from mother to fetus.

He held babies in his arms who were not given more than a year and a half to live. The cause? Their mothers had transmitted HIV , an acquired immunodeficiency virus, from their wombs that, at the time, represented a certain death sentence. Today they are men and women who are already in their third decade of life, in good health, and who maintain contact with her, who was her GP.

It is Dr. Maria del Carmen Gorbea Robles, an infectious pediatric doctor, for whom the challenge at that time was to identify the mechanisms of fetal transmission, which was then believed to be an irremediably lethal virus. And she did so, under the tutelage of Dr. Luc Montaigner, 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine, an award she obtained for having described HIV , of which she was a disciple, as well as Dr. Harold zur Hausen , also recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine, in his case for describing the association between human papilloma virus and cervical cancer.

“When I had doubts related to viral behaviors, I could consult them”, recalls Dr. Gorbea and relates: “Dr. Montaigner affectionately called me ‘veterinary’, because he did not understand how we could relate to people who did not speak … I I was learning. “

Pioneer against AIDS

Dr. Gorbea was part of the team of doctors who described the skin manifestations of this virus in children, who were unknown and, she says, “became an invaluable biological marker to keep track of the disease! Together with Dr. Carmen Villarreal, she created the concept of “Comprehensive management of the mother-child binomial with HIV- AIDS”, and with doctors Elda Villegas, Carmen Soler and Carmen Basualdo, they determined the behavior of placental cells, known as macrophages. placental, involved in the transmission of the virus from mother to baby. “We describe the exact number of CD4 cells that children had, which were unknown: and which today constitute a determining marker for the management of this infection.

They also described what at the time was called the “antiretroviral room”, which is the nutritional aspect of the patients, to whom he dedicated part of his research work with the aim of supporting them in the knowledge of their disease, in an accessible way.

In her professional practice, which includes almost three decades in the infectology department of the La Raza Medical Center of the IMSS, 10 years as a member of the National System of Researchers and with the experience of having been a pioneer in the treatment of patients with HIV- AIDS, She herself has been exposed to the AIDS virus itself and many more for caring for critically ill patients in high-risk areas.

Dr. Gorbea participated in three front-line pandemics, as a doctor and as a health authority: AIDS, H1N1 influenza and now Covid. And she has become so familiar with these species that, she says, “the microorganisms and I are I myself understand battery life, virology, I know how they interact with our cells, I find that fascinating.”

It was not an easy experience to have worked with characters of the stature of doctors Luc Montaigne and Harold zur Hausen. Medicine, she says, “is a complicated, complex world, and although today there is more openness for women in that field, 34 years ago, when I was in full professional practice, and being the youngest of the group to which I belonged, I It was not easy … I was lucky that there were very experienced doctors who adopted me as if I were their younger sister, and I learned a lot from them.”

She has been a member of various world associations, including the Interntional Aids Society, which led her to be a speaker at various international events. She has a master’s degree in Science at the Faculty of Medicine of the UNAM, from which she has a bachelor’s degree, as well as a master’s degree in Health Economics, from York University, in London, England. And to have been an executive of the GlaxosSmithKline pharmaceutical company, operating the production and import of vaccines.

Coronavirus: meet the enemy

One of his maxims is, quoting Machiavelli in The Prince, “to defeat the enemy you must first know him.” In the case of what was done in this sense with AIDS, Maricarmen Gorbea affirms: “That knowledge gave us tools to understand how the disease behaved, what were the most successful transmission mechanisms and treatment strategies.

Over time, already more than 30 years living with HIV- AIDS, which, like the coronavirus, says, “it is here to stay”, this knowledge has allowed us to reduce the risk of AIDS transmission. ” with the coronavirus.

“Sooner or later we are going to have to do gymnastics, immune training to learn how to deal with this virus.” It should not be forgotten that “we are a wonderful universe, our native microorganisms that live in our body can eventually help us defend ourselves against this virus and many other biological threats.”

María del Carmen Gorbea, pediatric infectologist, tells us if our body will be able to live with covid before a vaccine against the virus is found.

In fact, he indicates, on average adults are made up of 53 trillion cells “and for each cell we have twice as many microorganisms that inhabit us and help us to relate to the environment.” It is estimated that the “lean weight” of that today called “microbiome”, formerly known as “intestinal flora” or “microbiota”, is about 10 kilograms per person. “Let’s understand that our microbiome adapts, that is fully demonstrated, and it is so precise and so clear, that you can see from there all the background, the roots of each person … this is the wonderful microbiome, it is the one that has helped to survive,” he says.

In the case of the coronavirus , its antecedents are located in the 9th century BC, and in the 90’s it was possible to locate the most recent common ancestors of this virus, which are the genera Beta, Delta, Gamma and Alpha, present on earth since 3,300 a. of C. the oldest, and 2,400 years a. of C. the most recent. There are currently records of 7 coronavirus strains related to respiratory diseases in humans, the last of which is SAR-COV2.

This illustrates the ability of humanity to adapt to coexistence with these species, despite their lethality.

Our life, says DE Gorbea , “has already changed”, information and prevention are the best strategies to avoid serious infections, not expose yourself or do reckless behavior, have a healthy lifestyle and, centrally, avoid sharing inaccurate information. “This confinement came to bring out the best and worst as individuals and as a society … we are in the information age and we are more uninformed.” That, he concludes, is a serious risk.

In his opinion, in the case of the pandemic that we now have to live through, the worst has been the “little assertive” handling of information by governments and international agencies, since contradictory messages have been communicated, which has sowed confusion and It has prevented the adequate management of control and prevention measures, causing a high cost that we will have to pay as a society.

Confinement, he says, “has brought out the best and the worst in each one of us, as individuals and as a society”, however, “we must prepare to bear these costs … If everything works, it will take a generation in recovering … we must have a different behavior in which respect, cordiality and hygiene prevail, “he concludes.