The first time I vividly remember sitting with a child who was infected with HIV was in northern Ethiopia. The boy, who was about eight years old, had a glazed look in his eyes. He sat practically motionless while I visited with his mother and grandmother. The father had passed away.
Siblings were also present in the small home and, of course, I wondered if they were infected also. Thoughts just go in that direction in these circumstances.
The toddler was splashing his hands in a pot of liquid, which I later learned was a homemade alcohol brew. The family was very poor, and selling this brew was a means of income.
Both mom and grandma sat with me and described their situation. They explained that the older boy also was infected and was unable to play with his friends anymore. Other children would go out for games, and he sat idly by. He barely spoke a word. My heart ached for this family.
Since then I have been with other families facing the same devastation. Not only do moms get HIV, but the virus can be passed to the child during childbirth.
On Monday I noticed that HIV was trending on twitter. My first thought was that there was some kind of an awareness campaign going on. But, no…it was news! Good news! A toddler in Mississippi has been “functionally cured” of HIV. I quickly emailed 43 (yes 43) of my Food for the Hungry colleagues. My sweet coworker Wendy simply wrote back, “Praise God!”
These are the kind of breakthroughs we are waiting for!
In the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings the phrase “the suffering of the innocents” was used time and again. It refers back to the historic moment when King Herod ordered all boy children to be killed at the time of Jesus birth. It was a massacre. So was Newtown. And in a slower and drawn out way so is HIV/AIDS as it is passed to children.
Yesterday I was reminded that 100-200 children in the U.S.are born HIV+ each year. That’s 100-200 too many. Shockingly, 1,000 children are born HIV+ per day in the developing world.
So, while we celebrate the victories on the path toward finding a cure for HIV, here are some things we are doing in FH to respond to and overcome this crisis:
- Prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs. With proper treatment for mother and child, a child’s chances of being born free of HIV can be exponentially increased. FH encourages women to both know their status (find out if they are infected with HIV) and take the proper measures to protect their unborn child, if they are pregnant.
- Help HIV+ kids and adults gain access to medications that protect their immune systems. With proper treatment, people who are infected with HIV can live healthy lives.
- Provide HIV+ kids with nutritional support. Children and all people being treated for HIV must pay careful attention to their diet. In some areas, FH is providing milk support to boost the diets of children living with HIV.
- Reducing stigma. Secrecy and denial make the HIV disease even more deadly. FH works to help infected people and their communities accept this disease as a reality to contend with and not ostracize those who have it. FH has been particularly focused on strengthening churches so they can deal with this crisis.
Visit this page if you want to support these efforts.
I’ll close with a quote from Etsegenet Hailu who leads FH’s HIV programs in Ethiopia. Upon learning of this week’s developments in the U.S., Etsegenent called the news exciting and said, “We hope that the recent achievement may help identify vaccine or cure for HIV in the near future. Until then, as FH, we need to continue with the fight against HIV/AIDS and provide comprehensive care and support for the most vulnerable.”