Today is World AIDS Day. Did you know that? I can tell you that a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known, and had someone pointed it out, I probably would not have had much of a reaction – perhaps thoughts of Magic Johnson or the book I read in middle school about Ryan White or the tv movie telling the story of Ali Gertz (with whom I felt a kinship based solely on our shared first name) that I’d seen around the same time or the movie Philadelphia.
As we’ve entered into this world of special needs adoption, though, I’ve begun to learn more about HIV and AIDS. It turns out that my knowledge was pretty out-dated (and I suspect I’m not alone in that – according to a 2009 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans’ levels of knowledge about HIV and AIDS have not increased since about 1987). But things have changed a great deal since then, since the days of people like Ryan White and Ali Gertz.
For instance, did you know that –
- today HIV is considered a chronic but manageable condition
- children who are HIV+ and receive medical treatment are expected to live a normal lifespan
- HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact
- if a pregnant woman who is HIV+ is receiving treatment, the chances that her child will be infected can be reduced to approximately 1%
- with treatment, a person’s viral load (the amount of HIV in their body) can be reduced to undetectable levels
Check out this video from Project Hopeful (an amazing organization that advocates for the adoption of children who are HIV+ and does other work to support people living with HIV):
I didn’t realize how much the advances in treatment of HIV and AIDS had changed what life can look like for people who are HIV+. The news isn’t all good, though. Treatment is not always available for people who are infected with the virus – and even when it is, the social stigma may be so great that people choose to live without treatment instead of taking the risk that their friends, families, and neighbors will find out that they have HIV. It is estimated that there are 15 million children under the age of 18 who have been orphaned by AIDS. A great number of these children live in Africa – but did you know that there are AIDS orphans in China, too?
During the 1990s, a large number of farmers in Central China sold blood to supplement their income and in so doing, contracted HIV through unsanitary blood collection centers – in some villages in this area, it is estimated that 60% of the adult population is HIV+. One organization estimated that there would be 260,000 AIDS orphans in China by 2010. Some of those children did not contract the virus from their mothers – but others did and are now HIV+ themselves. There is still great social stigma associated with HIV in China. I came across a recent article the other day about a little boy who is HIV+ and whose parents had both died of AIDS, and he then lived alone, taking care of himself, at the ripe old age of six. No one – not his grandmother, not the local orphanage – would take him in for quite some time. Even orphanages that will accept a child who is HIV+ may not have staff who understand the virus or how to care for children who are HIV+. For fear that they may contract it themselves if they even touch those children, the staff may leave them alone in their cribs by themselves as much as possible. Can you imagine that existence? And then, if you receive proper medical treatment and you live to reach your 14th birthday, you age out of the system and are left totally alone in a society in which you will face the double stigma of being an orphan and being HIV+.
And yet, with treatment, those children who are HIV+ can live long, healthy, wonderful lives. Talk about diametrical opposites.
Matt and I are strongly considering requesting specifically to adopt a child who is HIV+. We obviously don’t know for sure whether that’s the path God has for our family – but we’re definitely open to it. And to be totally honest, I am really hoping and praying that we’ll be given the opportunity to welcome one of these little ones affected by HIV into our family. I know that may initially sound a bit scary, but we’re truly excited about this possibility and would love to talk with you more about it if you have any questions, concerns, etc.
Note: Facts and statistics in this post were taken from the following websites: Project Hopeful and China AIDS Orphan Fund. I’d definitely encourage you to update your knowledge about HIV and AIDS…and do feel free to ask me questions about any of this!