A goal for 2015: End to babies with AIDS
Michael Kofi Acquah is the epitome of health. The vivacious 4-year-old who lives outside Ghana’s capital, Accra, loves soccer and dancing.
Not so long ago, Michael could have been at death’s door. His mother, Doris Quaynor, has HIV. Quaynor was diagnosed in 1998, but after five years, she was finally able to receive some antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. The medication not only gave Quaynor a normal life — it even gave her a healthy baby.
“I worked closely with a physician to monitor my antibody count to make sure it was high enough to have a baby,” explains Quaynor, who works as a seamstress. “We continued to monitor my health and ARV medication to keep the level of HIV low and reduce the chance of transmission. After birth, Michael was also given doses of HIV medicine.”
Michael remains a relative rarity though. Every year, some 430,000 babies are born with HIV — 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
But soon the world may be welcoming an HIV-free generation. The charity (RED), working with The Global Fund, has made AIDS babies the focus of “Born HIV Free,” a new campaign to create an AIDS-free generation by 2015. Ninety-nine percent of HIV-positive women on ARV drugs who give their babies infant formula instead of breastmilk avoid infecting their babies.
“There has been remarkable progress in the past year alone,” says Anurita Bains, senior advisor to The Global Fund’s executive director. “South Africa, Lesotho and Malawi are on the path to end mother-to-child transmission. Political leaders are tackling the issue not because they adore babies but because eliminating HIV among them is achievable.”
Doris Quaynor, whose treatment was funded by (RED), remains healthy. And Michael is already planning for the future: He wants to become a soldier. To that, Quaynor says: “I’d prefer him to become a pilot.”
Together, though divided by HIV
The Ogori family is one with mixed fortunes: One half is HIV-negative, the other HIV-positive.
“I found out that I had HIV two years ago, when I was pregnant with my second son,” explains Beatrice Abakah-Ogori, a hairdresser in Accra, Ghana. “I couldn’t believe it. Shortly after I found out, my husband Charles also went for an HIV test and found out he was negative. It was very difficult for him but he decided that he couldn’t abandon me.”
Beatrice immediately began ARV treatment. Her son, Herbert, was born HIV-free. “He has been tested several times and is definitely HIV-negative,” she says. “But the doctors encouraged us to test our older son, Bright, as well. “He’s HIV-positive. I didn’t know my HIV status when I was pregnant with him so I didn’t even know I could transmit the disease.”
Bright will become an engineer, his mother hopes, a career his father dreamed of. As for Herbert? Beatrice says: “I’d love for him to become a doctor so that he can help others in the same way the doctors helped him be HIV-negative.”