Born HIV Free: How You Can Help Save a Baby's Life

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MERAUKE, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA - OCTOBER 09:  An HIV positive woman walks through a house for mental health on October 9, 2009 in Merauke, West Papua near Jayapura, Indonesia. The incidence of HIV and AIDS is on the rise in West Papua with a dramatic rise in cases being reported, resulting in over 5000 current known suffers and more than 300 people dying from the disease each year. Prostitution, drug abuse and mother-to-child transmission are the greatest causes of the increase, and in spite of the work of the government, aid organisations and the church, the spread continues. Despite education and counseling programs, and campaigns such as the AIDS Prevention Commission for Papua Province's 'Papua Condom Week' the number of cases and deaths continues to rise.  (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Imagine, just for a moment, that you're pregnant, or that someone you love is pregnant. Imagine that this is a happy thing -- the happiest thing -- and that you long to celebrate this pregnancy and the child that it will bring into the world.

Now imagine that you are -- or the person that you love is -- HIV positive.

If you live in the so-called developed world, being pregnant and HIV-positive doesn't mean that one's child will contract HIV. According to Avert.org, "in high income countries MTCT (mother-to-child-transmission) has been virtually eliminated thanks to effective voluntary testing and counseling, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and the widespread availability and safe use of breast-milk substitutes." Virtually eliminated. Lives, saved. There will be all sorts of things for you to worry about for that baby -- but HIV doesn't dominate that list.

If, however, you do not live in "high income countries" -- if, for example, you live in sub-Saharan Africa -- you will not have the luxury, such as it is, of putting that worry in its place. As Avert.org also says, "without treatment, around 15-30% of babies born to HIV positive women will become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery. A further 5-20% will become infected through breastfeeding." If you live in the so-called less-developed world, you will likely not have access to treatment. You will face the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby. This is heartbreaking.

And it is so much more heartbreaking because it is preventable. MTCT is, as I noted above, almost entirely eliminated in high income countries. It does not need to happen. It can be prevented. No baby needs to contract HIV through transmission from her mother. And yet, they do, in countries where the maternal health services required to reduce the risk of MTCT are not in place. And these countries, of course, tend to be those where women are disproportionately affected by HIV. These are the countries where mothers and children are dying of AIDS. These are the countries -- these are the women, these are the children -- that we need to help.

The Global Fund is trying to do just that. Their Born HIV Free campaign aims to eradicate the incidence of MTCT by 2015. As Julie Marsh describes the mission at The Mom Slant:

Organizations like UNICEF and AVERT are working to offer services to African mothers in need. But the largest effort by far is led by the Global Fund – Born HIV Free ... the Global Fund is devoted to the eradication of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. It’s a “global public/private partnership dedicated to attracting and disbursing additional resources to prevent and treat these diseases ... Born HIV Free is a campaign by the Global Fund to mobilize public support for a world where no child is born with HIV by 2015.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy puts it in more vivid terms:

Yeah. I know. It makes me cry, too.

I'm on record as insisting that we have an obligation to use our social media platform for good. We have loud, strong, passionate voices. Voices that get heard. We can -- we should -- raise our voices in support of this cause. Because all that's needed right now is our voices. Nobody needs to put on a tutu or run a marathon or find something to donate to an auction or place a bid in an auction or anything like that (even though I know that you would all do those things a hundred times over). The Born HIV Free campaign is doing the heavy lifting here; they just need our vocal support, so that they can show the money-granting powers-that-be that this cause matters to people and get that money in order to achieve their goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV entirely. So that they can save lives.

You just need to sign their petition. And then, if you can, tweet it, blog it, vlog it, Facebook it, Chatter it, email it, do something with it, something that lets others know that all they have to do is lend their name to the cause. To save lives.

And if you do any of that stuff, like, soon? You could come with me to Africa, to Lesotho, to see the Born HIV Free campaign in action. Really. You'd have to act quickly, because the window for getting in on it closes at the end of this weekend, but it is something that you can do - Julie is doing it! - and really, what a soul-gripping adventure it will be.

The details about what you can do to help AND join me on the trip (from the Facebook page):

We put this in your hands. We're going to pick the person who gathers the most support for the campaign. We're going to pick the supporter that recruits the most people via to our Causes petition and raises the most awareness for the campaign.

Do you want to go? Here is what you need to do:

  • Click on http://www.causes.com/fighthiv and click invite your friends (or use this link: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/petitions/466/invite?step=0 ) and invite as many of your friends to sign up as possible (be sure to publish the link on your profile too).
  • Gather support elsewhere. Write to blogs you know, persuade anyone that can reach a big audience to promote the campaign, host promotional events at your local club. Persuade employees to sign up. Really innovative promotional ideas will go down well here.
  • Send an e-mail to socialmedia@theglobalfund.org telling us who you are, how many people you have recruited and what you did to promote the campaign.
  • At 5:59am, EDT, Sept 3rd, competition entries close and we will contact the winner the following day.

(That 'gather support elsewhere' thing is important to consider -- the contest won't be determined on signatures alone, but also on how much you can do to get the message out there: blog it, vlog it, tweet it, start a meme, anything. The more people get involved, the further the message goes; the further the message goes, the more signatures; the more signatures, the more likely it is that this campaign will get the funding it needs and will be able to get down to the work of saving lives. So. DO IT. YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANT TO. I have to sob onto someone's shoulder while I'm there, right?)

Catherine Connors blogs at Her Bad Mother and Their Bad Mother and The Bad Moms Club, and everywhere in between. She's grooving on Love's Baby Soft and dill pickle chips these days, when she's not wringing her hands over the politics of saving the world.

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