I was born in 1980, the same year that the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed. In this limited amount of time, AIDS has grown into the worst public health crisis in human history.

 It’s amazing to think that all this has happened since I was a child and that myself and people younger than me have never lived in a world without this devastating disease looming over us.

I spent my childhood in Memphis, Tennessee where I was exposed to the consequences of AIDS at an early age. I remember a friend of my mother’s who used to work at a salon where we would get our hair done.

He always seemed healthy and strong; but over time, I noticed he grew weaker and didn’t understand why. Then he stopped showing during our regular appointments all together.  My mother did not discuss the difficult subject, but I later learned that he had died of AIDS. I was about 7 years old. “Advocacy is a basic right of every individual and organization and may be practiced without limit- it is an exercise of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution (Worth, 2009 p.342). This is why I choose to advocate for AIDS.

I have not had the privilege of meeting many of the brave children, women and men affected by HIV and AIDS, but I never forgot about my mother’s friend Michael. During my research of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, one of the most heart-wrenching touching statistics that I discovered is that of children in the southern region of Africa.

“South Africa’s HIV and AIDS epidemic has had a devastating effect on children in a number of ways. There were an estimated 330,000 under-15s living with HIV in 2009, a figure that has almost doubled since 2001. HIV in South Africa is transmitted predominantly through heterosexual sex, with mother-to-child transmission being the other main infection route. The national transmission rate of HIV from mother to child is approximately 11%. Because the virus is transmitted from the child’s mother in cases of mother-to-child transmission, the HIV-infected child is born into a family where the virus may have already had a severe impact on health, income, productivity and the ability to care for each other (AVERT, 2010)”

If millions of Americans died every year from polio or the flu, we’d be shocked and appalled because polio is preventable and the flu is treatable. With the proper attention, HIV is both preventable and treatable, yet millions of Africans die needlessly of the virus every year. We wouldn’t consider this acceptable in the U.S. so why would we stand for it anywhere else?

What hurts me most are three words that should never be allowed to go together, have now become commonplace in Africa: child-headed households. Children orphaned by AIDS claiming the lives of their parents are often forced into crime, or sexual exploitation, or enrolled as child soldiers to fend for their families. This is unacceptable to me and very painful.

The truth is we wouldn’t, and through globalization and awareness that comes from our increased interconnectivity online and off, more and more of us are taking a stand against this injustice. “We realize that this disease does not discriminate between national borders, and neither should the cure (Who 2006).”

We must never give up until AIDS treatment and realistic prevention measures go hand-in-hand and become equally accessible worldwide; until we realize that keeping mothers alive and empowering them is critical to the well-being of the world’s children; and until we stand together and say, “We did not sit idly by and watch an entire continent perish.”

Helping keep a child, or mother, or father, or brother or sister alive means turning the worst epidemic of our lifetime into the greatest victory of our generation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Refrences:

AVERT. (2010). HIV & AIDS in South Africa. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from AVERTing HIV & AIDS : http://www.avert.org/aidssouthafrica.htm

Human Sciences Research Council (2009), ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey, 2008: A Turning Tide Among Teenagers?’ Retrieved November 27, 2010, from http://www.hsrc.ac.za/SAHA.phtml

WHO (2006, August), ‘Antiretroviral drugs for treating pregnant women and preventing HIV infection in infants: towards universal access’ Retrieved November 29, 2010, from http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/mtct/antiretroviral/en/index.html

Worth, M. (2009). Nonprofit Management. (pp. 342 ). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.