EGPAF Ambassador Martha Cameron: How the Ryan White CARE Act Helped Save My Life

Too often, I hear people say that mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been “solved” in the United States. And it is true that since the epidemic first began more than 30 years ago, there has been tremendous progress made in the effort to prevent mothers from passing the virus to their babies. In fact, fewer than 200 babies are born HIV-positive in the United States in each year; a milestone made even more impressive considering there are approximately 9,500 women living with HIV who give birth in the U.S. each year.

But none of this progress would been possible without the Ryan White CARE Act, a ground-breaking law passed in 1990 that helped thousands of people living with HIV and their families access lifesaving treatment and prevention services. Since its inception 25 years ago, the Ryan White Program has helped many women living with HIV, women like myself, access the care and treatment they need to ensure their babies are born and remain HIV-free.

When women access services to prevent HIV transmission to their babies, transmission rates can be reduced to less than 2 percent. However accessing those services can be complicated, especially for pregnant women. It can often be difficult to find affordable transportation or childcare and keeping track of the complex drug regimens can be challenging. Part D of the Ryan White Program, which is focused on women and their families, offers services to meet the unique needs of families, creating a supportive environment to keep women in care at the most critical time for their child. 

I know this personally, because I received care through the Ryan White Program to ensure that my baby was born HIV free.

It was special to walk into a clinic where you did not have to explain you were HIV positive; no-one judged you, to the contrary they celebrated your courage and supported you.

When the baby was born, you were transported to lab & doctor visits until the baby was declared negative. It was also little things: no-one put on double gloves in order to touch you baby and both you and baby got hugs.

You could also talk about your struggles in taking care of yourself as a mother or taking care of your family and get support. My positive experience led to me continue to work with and advocate for women, particularly African American women of color who are disproportionately affected by HIV that desire to still have families of their own.

The U.S. must continue to support the Ryan White Program and ensure that women like me can receive comprehensive care across all parts of the program. Without it, we put the incredible progress that has been made at risk. It would be a tragedy if complacency kept us from doing what we know is possible: ending AIDS in children in the U.S. once and for all.