Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This Saturday, March 10th, is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

It’s a day to reflect about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and children in the United States

During my time as an intern at the Foundation, I have been moved and inspired by the work being done in the global community to eliminate pediatric AIDS. I have learned how essential this work is, the impact it carries, and the incredible opportunity we have to affect future generations by eliminating this disease in children.

As a young woman living in Washington, D.C., this day also carries an important significance to me. I was shocked to learn that our nation’s capital is home to the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country—3 % of Washingtonians aged 13 or older are living with HIV/AIDS according to the D.C. Department of Health, a percentage comparable to many of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

This year’s National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day theme, “What’s your deciding moment?” asks people about everyday moments that inspire thoughts and opportunities to take action against HIV. Sticking with this year’s theme, I am going to share three deciding moments I have had in the past two months that have elevated my personal desire to take action against HIV/AIDS:

1. The Moment I Realized the Vulnerability of Mothers and Children

Prior to starting my internship, I wanted to learn as much about the Foundation, its work, and the pandemic as possible. I spent hours reading through the Foundation website and quickly realized that women and children are considerably more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in developing countries, facing larger gaps in access to treatment and care in comparison to men.

The good news is that the ability to counteract that vulnerability exists. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV initiatives have helped save the lives of mothers around the world, while simultaneously protecting their babies from contracting the virus. The number of infants born with HIV each year in the U.S. is now less than 200, but there are still 1,000 new infections each day around the world.

But we’re making progress—the combination of knowledge, tools, and resources that we have access to are helping us get that number to zero.

2. The Moment I Saw the Debilitating Role Discrimination Plays

In February, I met my first Foundation Ambassador, Josephine from Uganda. Hearing her personal story was the first time I really understood how stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS affects people. Her courageousness in standing up to that discrimination amazed and inspired me. She discussed how the negative reactions of her peers hurt her more than the damaging effects of the disease, saying that the emotional burden of the disease is equal to the physical burden.

Stigma and discrimination is a crippling side effect of HIV/AIDS and keeps people in hiding—it hinders husbands from telling their wives about their HIV status, and women and children from seeking life-saving care and treatment. Josephine’s story taught me that equal attention needs to be placed on combating the harsh discrimination behind HIV/AIDS, which many of the Foundation’s programs are doing.

3. The Moment I Realized the Importance of Urgent, Collective Action

Earlier this week, Susan DeLaurentis, one of the three co-founders of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, was in the Washington, D.C. office sharing her memories of the early history of the Foundation. Someone asked her what she thinks Elizabeth would say to the staff today.

Her reply was “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Susan’s stories of Elizabeth’s determination in meetings with members of Congress and even presidents was inspiring; but it also reiterated to me that more than 20 years after the beginning of the Foundation, the need to eliminate pediatric HIV/AIDS is as urgent as it has ever been.

Learning more about the organization where I am spending my Spring semester, meeting an inspiring young woman from Uganda, and then one of Elizabeth Glaser’s best friends – reflecting on these “deciding moments” reinforces my spirit and makes waking up to come to work each morning a meaningful experience.

Today, as we get ready to commemorate National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I encourage you all to think about your deciding moment, and then re-double your own efforts, no matter how small, in the fight to eliminate HIV/AIDS. 

Lethia McFarland is an intern in the Foundation’s Global Communications and Brand Strategy Department, based in Washington, D.C. She is also a full-time student at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.