World AIDS Day: Getting to zero

Fatumata, whose name has been changed, is a 14-year-old girl who lived in Eastern Africa all of her life before coming to Minnesota in 2010. She grew up in a refugee camp with her younger brother and sister and her parents. She had to take medicine every day, and sometimes she was very sick. But mostly she liked to play with her friends and help her mother with the chores.  Fatumata noticed that some of the people in the camp avoided her and her family, and she was not allowed to go to school with the other children. She didn’t know why.

Then one day, Fatumata’s father became very ill and eventually passed away.  Soon after, her mother became too sick to care for her and her siblings, and her uncle came to tell her that she would be leaving the camp to go and live with his family in America. Fatumata cried because she did not want to leave her mother, but her mother told her that she would be able to grow and be healthy where she was going and that they would see each other again.

So Fatumata and her siblings came to Minnesota. It was very cold and, at first, she didn’t understand what anyone was saying.  Soon she was able to go to school for the first time, and she learned English, and she continued to take her medications and grow strong and healthy. Today, Fatumata knows why she takes medications. She knows the name of her disease and doesn’t fear her HIV. She has a dedicated medical team at Children’s who provide care and support to her and her family. Fatumata is looking forward to the day when she will be able to go to college and some day, have a healthy family of her own.

Dec. 1 marked the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day.  It is an opportunity for us to come together to show support for people living with HIV and AIDS around the world and at home, to remember those who have died from this disease, and to commit to “getting to zero” in the fight against HIV:  zero new infections and zero deaths from HIV and AIDS.

HIV today

Around the world, there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV. About 3.3 million are children under 15.  In addition, around 17.3 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS and millions more have been affected by the epidemic. Every day, almost 7,000 people become infected with HIV and nearly 5,000 people die from AIDS.  In 2011, 230,000 of those who lost their lives were children, according to UNICEF.

In the United States approximately 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and in Minnesota, just over 7,500 of our neighbors, family members, and friends are living with HIV and AIDS, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

What is Children’s doing in the fight against HIV?

As the largest provider of care to HIV-infected children in Minnesota, we provide medical care to more than 100 children infected with HIV every year.  Children come to us from all over Minnesota and all over the world. Many of the children in our care have been adopted from countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean.  Many more are refugees and immigrants, who may not be able to access treatment in their own countries. In addition to expert medical care, families can access specialized support services funded through the federal Ryan White CARE Act, including education, family case management and mental health services.

What can you do?

1. Get tested, know your status! HIV testing is recommended as a routine part of medical care.Talk to your provider about testing.

2. Get connected, get support! If you are living with HIV, find out about the programs and services offered in your area to help you stay healthy and support you and your family in living with your disease.

3. Educate yourself about HIV! Learn how to prevent HIV infection and how to keep yourself safe. Can you answer these questions about HIV?

True or false?

1. HIV is a virus and AIDS is a bacteria

2. HIV infection can be spread by hugging

3. Some people have HIV and do not know it

4. There is treatment for HIV

5. People who have HIV can give birth to healthy babies

Quiz answers

1.  HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the disease caused by the HIV virus. AIDS makes it hard for people to fight off other kinds of infections and illnesses and can make people sick.

2.  False! You cannot get HIV from hugging or playing with other people with HIV. HIV can only be spread by direct contact with blood and some other body fluids through sex, sharing needles, or breastfeeding.

3.  True. About 15 percent of people infected with HIV do not know they are infected with the virus. That’s why getting tested is so important!

4.  True! We have great treatments and medications for people living with HIV that enable them to stay healthy and live a very long time. We don’t have a cure yet, but scientists are hard at work on it.

5.  True! When people living with HIV take their medications and see their doctors regularly, they have over a 98 percent chance of having a baby born without HIV.

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