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 the
mama struggles to rein them in.
To help Rose - and to make friends with my patient - I pick up
the little girl, Elizabeth. Her 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. She is adorable.
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
mine. Of course, I am enchanted by her.
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
Rose is infected with 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. We try to protect
babies from HIV all the way through pregnancy, child birth, and
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 to
her that these precious babies are HIV negative. All of
Rose's work meant that the HIV virus in her blood does not infect
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. If a woman starts HIV medicines while she is
pregnant or even during the time of delivery, we can reduce the
chance that her baby will be infected to less than 2%. There is no
reason that we cannot give every HIV-infected mother the gift of
good news that Rose received today:
Your baby does not have 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.
The gift of two HIV-negative twins was a gift to me too. As the
only pediatrician in an HIV clinic, I usually end up seeing lots of
really sick kids, the complicated cases. The clinical officers see
most of the regular patients who are doing well. As their
consultant and supervisor, I get to see their difficult cases. I
spend most of my time in clinic trying to figure out what on earth
to do for the children who are having all kinds of problems.
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 -- a gift to me and an even bigger gift for Rose
and her children -- is to celebrate over the verdict that these
little lovies are HIV-free.
- I long for the gift of good news for all
of the mothers and grandmothers who wait with their babies in the