Debunking HIV/AIDS Myths and the Children They Leave Alone
My husband and I have been involved with our adoption for nearly 5 years. During that time, we have had many twists and turns in our adoption that have sent us far and wide to research different topics within the orphan crisis. There are so many sweet children that need homes and through our research we have discovered the most feared and least understood of these children that desperately need families...HIV+ children.
The day my husband came to me and told me that he had a burden for these kids and wanted me to consider an adoption for one, I was completely shocked and resistant. You hear the horror stories of HIV. The devastation the disease causes to the human body and how contagious the disease is. How could he want to get a child that is just going to die? How could he even think about exposing our healthy family to this disease? Were just a few of the thoughts that swirled around in my mind. Still, I made the effort to do some research and learn before I completely shut the idea down. Here is just a sampling of what I discovered and hopefully it will open your eyes as it did mine...
The disease is diagnosed in 4 stages-similar to cancer. If the disease is found in the first stage, it often doesn't require medication and is monitored until it is necessary. In the forth stage, is the only stage that a patient is actually diagnosed with AIDS. During this stage is when the person is the most ill and will succumb to the disease due to illness because of the deterioration of their immune system. Even after entering stage four, because of the development of Anti-retroviral medications (ARV's), someone could live for years!
ARVs, when they were first developed in the 80's, wreaked terrible havoc on the human body. If you didn't pass away due to the disease, you often did because of the damage the medications did to your organs. Today, even though the medications are not a cure but a management of the HIV, they do not cause the damage they once did and have given the patients a normal life expectancy by keeping the replication of the virus at low levels in the blood. With early intervention and diagnosis, you can wait to go on these medications which will also help one live a longer, healthier life. The ARVs also keep the disease replication so low in the blood that you could take a vial of infected blood and inject it into your blood stream without fear of infection! (Although I DO NOT recommend this ;O) Although this medication is a saving grace to those in stage 2 or 3 of the disease, once someone with HIV is diagnosed and placed on ARVs, they cannot come off so being under a good hematologist's care early in life is essential!
There is definitely more medical care and commitment you will need to make with an HIV+ child, but you wouldn't believe how easy the day to day of managing HIV is. The ARVs are often times one or two pills once a day-that's it! You will need to see a specialist to have their blood drawn and monitored every 6 months or so as well. Although injuries could be a stressful situation, as long as you practice wearing gloves while taking care of bleeding injuries, keeping cuts covered until scabbed and disposing of anything bloody safely, the disease will not be transmitted to others. HIV is a very weak virus and once exposed to the air it begins to die.
The only way to transmit the disease through blood is blood to blood contact (And if you think about it, with any injury you have ever encountered, when have you smashed one of your bleeding cuts against someone else's?) It cannot penetrate the skin, if you swallow it your body will break it down before it's absorbed! Amazing, right? In a normal family environment, there has been 0 cases of a healthy person becoming infected. In sports, there is 1 known case of an infected individual infecting someone healthy!
Probably the worst part of HIV is the misinformed ostrasizing those battling their illness. Because everyone's information is from the 1980's when HIV was discovered and treatments were developed, HIV+ diagnosed children are often victim to discrimination if they tell others about their diagnosis. Although a school is informed that an individual attending has HIV, they may not know who because of how children have been treated in the past due to the ignorance of-sadly-parents.
Now, all that I have told you is how things work in advanced societies, but in the poor countries of Africa or Asia, the outlook is so sad! In the US you can easily get ARVs, even mother's who have HIV can give birth to perfectly healthy children! But in Africa, mother's who are diagnosed die young after giving birth to family of children with the same disease. They are all then placed in an orphanage with no parents while dealing with a disease they have no medication to manage. In Taiwan, the country officials do not think HIV+ children are adoptable, so they place them in an institution and wont even create paperwork for families to see to be given the option to adopt them. These children will never know the love of a family and will age out of system at a young age to live on the streets and be a part of the problem while dealing drugs or becoming prostitutes in order to survive-and thus the circle goes round and round!
It is amazing how wrong I was in how I thought about this illness and how misinformed I found myself to be-along with most of the public! Even though our adoption has taken us in a path away from children with this disease, it doesn't mean that our heart for these discriminated children doesn't care. We want others to be informed and we desperately desire families to consider these beautiful children to be adopted! A lot of my research started at Project Hopeful (which you can check out for yourself, here: http://www.projecthopeful.org/) which is a foundation dedicated to Educating, encouraging, and enabling families and individuals to advocate for and adopt children with HIV/AIDS who are some of the most overlooked children for adoption. It is a great place to get started if you want to learn more!
Thanks for sharing, Janell!