Rose sits down on the chair next to my clinic desk with her arms
full of toddlers. Her 18-month-old twins, a boy and a girl, are
determined to head in different directions in the clinic, and she
is struggling to rein them in.
To help her - and to make friends with my patient - I pick up
the little girl, Elizabeth. Elizabeth's short hair has been
carefully twisted into tiny, 1-inch braids all over her head. She
has enormous eyes that immediately make you think she will grow
into a great beauty.
I pull out some stickers from my pocket to woo her with bright
smiley faces, and she quickly puts them all over her hands and
Her twin brother, Kyle, sits more calmly in his mother's arms,
watching me with matching big, brown eyes. I hand over some
stickers to him as well, and he smiles at my little gift.
Then, I get to give their mother a much better gift.
Rose has HIV, but during the entire time that she was pregnant
and through a year of breast-feeding the twins, she took 3 HIV
medicines to keep the virus at a very low level in her body. Every
day, she took the medicines -- while her babies grew and ate and
slept and became these feisty little people. Rose also made sure
that her twin babies had preventative HIV medicines for the first
months of their lives. She brought them to clinic at AMPATH every
month, and we watched them grow and tried to keep them extra-safe
with medicines to prevent infections.
Today, I get to tell Rose that it worked. Officially. On their
third and final test, the test that we can only do once babies hit
18 months of age, I get to announce that these precious babies are
HIV negative. All of Rose's work meant that the HIV virus in
her blood does not infect her babies.
When I told her, Rose's eyes crinkled and filled with happy
tears. So did mine. Such great news.
We are actually really good at preventing babies from being
infected with HIV. With HIV medicines started while a woman is
pregnant or even during the time of delivery, we can reduce the
chance that the baby will be infected to less than 2%. There is no
reason that we cannot give every HIV-infected mother the good news
that Rose received today.
Your baby will not carry this virus.
In 2012 alone, programs like ours that are funded by the U.S.
government's PEPFAR program averted at least 230,000 babies from
being infected with HIV. Worldwide, we have prevented at least 1
million babies from being infected. No baby should be born with
this virus. If we can get women tested and linked into care and if
we can get them to take these medicines like Rose did, we can make
sure that no baby will be born with the virus. It's a big "if", but
it is possible. An AIDS-free generation.
As the only pediatrician in an HIV clinic, I usually end up
seeing lots of really sick kids, the complicated cases. It is my
job to serve as a consultant to the clinical officers who see most
of the regular patients who are doing well. This makes it a special
joy when I get to play with healthy, happy, growing toddlers like
Elizabeth and Kyle. And the very best part of the day was telling
Rose that these little lovies are HIV-free.
- I long for good news for all of the
mothers and grandmothers who wait with their babies in the HIV