Zenale is a young mother living in the small African country of Swaziland; one of the areas of the world in which HIV is most prevalent. Also plagued by HIV and having lost her husband to the virus, Zenale finds herself left a single mother of three, fighting a battle that many before her have lost. And yet, by some miracle, Zenale’s children are growing healthily, before her very eyes, free of HIV.
This is a story of hope; one that the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation shared with a Pacific University audience during the organization’s visit on Nov. 15.
“We’re not talking about hopelessness,” introduced Director for the Center for Gender Equity Martha Rampton, “but how situations have turned around.”
Hopelessness was present earlier in Zenale’s story. Soon after beginning a relationship with her future husband, Zenale found she was HIV positive. The couple was fighting the virus together and was left shocked and unsure as of how to proceed on with their lives.
After beginning treatment for HIV, the couple was given the news that they were expecting their first child. Although this would be an exciting time for many, Zenale was terrified for what she assumed was the inevitable; giving birth to a child who was also HIV positive.
However, through much research and the efforts of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, it was shown that Zenale and her child’s story would not end here.
Researchers learned early on with HIV that “the virus was extremely clever,” said representative for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation Makaria Reynolds. Initially, without proper diagnosis and treatment, one out of three children being born to HIV positive mothers were dying by age one.
Reynolds said the lack of progress and discrimination against HIV was posing a mid-life crisis.
Through this mid-life crisis the foundation saw “remorse for goals not accomplished,” a “sense of hopelessness” and a “search for undefined dreams” said Reynolds.
And just like Zenale, Elizabeth Glaser, the woman who the foundation was named after needed some sense of security for her unborn child.
Glaser had first been diagnosed with HIV after a blood transfusion she received while giving birth to her daughter, Ariel in 1981. Unknowingly, the virus was then transferred to Ariel through breastfeeding and to her son, Jake in utero.
It was unknown at this time that HIV was prevalent among children and therefore, the only treatments available on the market were for adults. Ariel’s battle against HIV ended in 1988 and alongside her close friends Susie Zeegen and Susan DeLaurentis, Elizabeth began a foundation that would raise awareness and funding for pediatric HIV/AIDS research.
The vision of the foundation is a future of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.
Although this may seem like a difficult goal to achieve, Reynolds included her presentation that by 2009, 370,000 children had contracted the HIV virus which was a significant decrease from 500,000 children in 2001.
And with testaments from survivors like Zenale, whose three children are still living today, HIV negative and Glaser’s son, Jake who is now a healthy adult, the dream of an AIDS-free world is looking more and more attainable.
“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come and what the future might look like, “ concluded Reynolds.