Every World AIDS Day, I write about Faith. December 1, this day
that we celebrate World AIDS Day, was Faith's birthday.
I wish that Faith was alive today to turn
Faith was the first child under my care who died from HIV. She
was my patient on the wards of the referral hospital in western
Kenya in the fall of 2004.
Faith was 4-years old, and she only weighed 4 kilograms - about
9 pounds. I had never seen a 4-year-old child like Faith before
that day, a 4-year-old who weighed less than some newborn
Four-year-olds are usually my favorites. They are full of
imagination and spirit, confident in their new skills, and eager to
tell you all about what makes them excited. Four-year-olds are not
supposed to look like Faith looked. The HIV virus had stolen all of
Faith's energy as it destroyed her body's immune system. The HIV
virus was stealing away Faith. She was beautiful, but broken.
Faith's mother had worked very, very hard to get her daughter to
the referral hospital. Faith had been sick many times in her short
life, and her mother knew the village health clinic could not make
her daughter healthy. She scraped together every bit of money she
could gather from her extended family in order to take Faith to the
far-away referral hospital. You can see in the photo how happy and
hopeful her mother looks. She is pleased she managed to get her
daughter to this hospital.
Faith died two days after she was admitted to the hospital. Our
medicines, our fluids, our nutritional support were all too little,
too late. We could not save her. I could not save her. I remember
her last breath, and that memory still brings tears to my eyes.
Faith taught me my first real lesson in how HIV steals
After Faith died, her mother kept thanking me for this photo
that I had taken of Faith. She did not have any other pictures of
her daughter, and she was grateful to have this one. I felt
terrible when she thanked me. I felt like I failed because I could
not keep Faith alive. What was a photo in the face of the loss of a
I wished that I could change Faith's story. I
still wish that. I wish Faith was alive to turn 13 on this December
1, on this World AIDS Day. I wish we all could know Faith today,
even as exasperating and difficult as 13-year-old girls can
We have lost so many Faiths. 210,000 children died from HIV last
year. 210,000 stories we will never know. 210,000 birthdays that
will not be celebrated this year.
When I took care of Faith, I did not realize that my life's work
would become trying to change the stories of children living with
HIV in the world's poor places. I did not know I would one day be
caring for over 24,000 Kenyan children just like Faith through the
AMPATH program. I did not know that I would find spend every day
trying change the stories of children with HIV around the world
into stories of health and hope.
3.4 million of the world's children are living with HIV on this
December 1, 2013. And only ONE-THIRD of those
children have access to the medicines that they need to stay alive.
Two out of three children with HIV will not get the
medicines they need to continue to celebrate their
birthdays. Without treatment, HIV will cut short the
stories of two out of three of these 3.4 million children. That is
I want more birthdays for more children. We
could have kept Faith alive if she had been able to enroll in one
of our HIV clinics and start the medicines for HIV before she got
so sick. We could have given her many more birthdays. On this
December 1st, the AMPATH program in Kenya has 8,000
Faiths alive and growing and taking these medicines through our
clinics. And we are learning how to provide the best possible HIV
care for children all over the world.
On Faith's birthday, I want the world to demand more birthdays
for more children. We know how to do it. We can keep
children with HIV alive. We just need to try.