Due to health and technological advances no baby should ever be born HIV-positive no matter where in the world they are born. However, over 900 babies are born each day with HIV. That number is staggering given that being born with HIV is preventable. There is a full-proof way to deliver HIV-negative babies and prevent mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus. However, the first place to start is through active testing of expecting mothers and education. That is why the voices of mothers and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Ambassadors like Martha Cameron and Florence Ngobeni-Allen are so vital to the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) (www.pedaids.org) works to reduce the number of babies who are born with HIV. Through the work of their ambassadors like Cameron and Ngobeni-Allen word is being spread to HIV-positive women about how to prevent passing the HIV virus onto their babies. I recently joined a Google+ Hangout with Martha Cameron and Florence Ngobeni-Allen, two HIV-positive mothers who have successfully delivered HIV-negative babies and have HIV-negative spouses.
Martha Cameron, a Zambian mother who now lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC, learned she was HIV-positive after becoming severely ill in 2003. Cameron had already experienced the death of many of her family members to HIV/AIDS including her mother when she was 23-years-old. Little did she know that she, too, had been infected with the HIV virus. A young, single woman with a lifetime to live, Cameron did not think she would get married and definitely didn’t think she would become a mother, but in 2007 all of that changed. Four years after being diagnosed HIV-positive, Cameron married her husband, Andy, and is now the mother of two HIV-negative sons. Her husband remains HIV-negative as well.
Florence Ngobeni-Allen’s story mirrors Cameron’s in many ways, but is also quite different. Ngobeni-Allen learned she was HIV-positive after losing her then husband and infant daughter, Nomthunzi, to AIDS in the 1990s in South Africa. Ngobeni-Allen recalls that during that time “there were no antiretroviral medicines available for children at that time in South Africa”. Since losing her family due to lack of awareness, treatment, and medicines, Ngobeni-Allen turned personal grief into power and has counseled thousands of HIV-positive women to care for themselves and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV through pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. She also advocates for increased funds for medicine and treatment for HIV-positive women and their children.
Despite the success rates of ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) only 57% of pregnant women particularly in the developing world have access to medications and treatment for HIV. This is disturbing especially when medicine and treatment advances keep babies and adults alive.
During the Google+ Hangout with EGPAF, Martha, and Florence they implored me to spread the word about how saving babies from HIV is doable. That’s the least I can do.
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