Teaching a New Generation in Washington, D.C. about HIV
March 17, 2011
Recently, my colleagues and I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to middle and high school students from Washington, D.C. about the global HIV epidemic and its effect on young people. The students were participating in a day-long seminar as part of the Global Classrooms D.C. and Model United Nations programs.
Throughout the day, students heard presentations on urgent global issues such as climate change, refugees, and HIV/AIDS. We explained the Foundation’s contribution to fighting this disease, and its targeted mission: eliminating all new HIV infections in infants worldwide, and treating children, mothers, and whole families living with the virus.
An advertisement for prevention of mother-to-child
transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services for pregnant
women appears in Washington, D.C. Photo: EGPAF
Through graphs and graphics, we showed them the scope of the HIV epidemic around the globe, as well as the HIV rates in the U.S. This was particularly relevant to these students, because they live in a community that has the highest HIV prevalence of any American city
Washington, D.C. has an HIV prevalence rate of 3%. This might seem like a small number, but it’s much larger than the 1% figure that classifies it as a severe epidemic. It even rivals some of the nations in sub-Saharan Africa where the Foundation works.
Last week, a local advocacy group – D.C. Appleseed – released its sixth annual report card
on the response to HIV/AIDS in the nation’s capital. One of the findings was that “the District continues to do far less than is needed to ensure that its young people receive the education they need regarding HIV/AIDS.”
After the presentations, we broke into smaller groups so the students could ask questions, and it was clear that they wanted to know much more about the disease:
“What is the origin of HIV?”
“Why is the epidemic so severe in Africa?”
“Why would you not help people with HIV?”
“How close are we to a cure?”
All great questions…and although we now know a lot about HIV, we still don’t have all the answers.
One of the most vital answers to give to young people is to tell them how to protect themselves and those they love from HIV. It’s also important to show that HIV/AIDS continues to be a global problem, as well as a serious issue in our own backyard.
Working as a nurse prescriber in Philadelphia during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., I witnessed firsthand the toll that HIV takes on our most vulnerable populations, including the young.
But I’ve also experienced our successes, at home and abroad. We explained to the students that one of our greatest successes is figuring out how to use HIV medicines to prevent mothers from passing on the virus to their babies.
Because of this, there are now fewer than 200 babies born in the U.S. each year. I witnessed the hard work that was needed in those early days to virtually eliminate transmission of HIV from mothers to their infants in the U.S.
Today, the Foundation is currently working with the D.C. Department of Health to review each case of a child being born HIV-positive in the District, and to identify gaps in the health system that can be addressed to prevent future infections.
Compare the approximately 200 annual cases of new pediatric HIV infections in the U.S. to the 1,000 babies infected around the world each day, and you see the scope of our challenge globally. But you also see the hope of continued success.
I’ve seen faces of hope at clinics and health centers supported by the Foundation throughout Africa. It’s most apparent when HIV-positive mothers learn that they were able to give birth to babies free of HIV. There is indeed no greater joy to be experienced by the moms and the clinicians who work with them.
We’ve made incredible strides in fighting the disease, but we can’t become complacent. In fact, despite how much we know about preventing and treating HIV, our domestic HIV infection rates are starting to rise again, particularly in certain populations.
Next year, when the world’s largest AIDS conference comes to Washington, D.C.
, the U.S. and its capital city can expect to get a global report card on how we’re handling the growing epidemic.
Until then, one thing is clear: We have to teach each new generation about the risks of this disease, until the day we finally have a cure.