Today is World AIDS Day. Celebrities will wear red ribbons and there will be a brief segment on the evening news tonight and that will be pretty much the extent of it for most of us. After all, it's the holiday season. There's shopping to be done, decorations to be hung, and elaborate desserts to cook.
My perspective is a little bit different this year. I spent half of the year in central Africa, where HIV prevalance rates are high and where hope is small. There are only 200 courses of Anti-Retroviral drugs for all of North Kivu province. The donors say it's too difficult to provide them in a war zone. Those 200 doses are paid for by the Clinton Foundation. 60 go to children.
There are 200 HIV-positive diagnosed children in Goma. Meeting the pediatric AIDS doctor at Heal Africa, and hearing her explain how she chooses which children get the drugs and which ones don't was an experience that defies explanation.
It is hard to explain the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Third World when you live in a place where HIV is now just another chronic disease - inconvenient, yes, and you don't want to catch it, right, but it's basically something you can deal with. You have insurance, the insurance helps pay for your ARV's, and it's okay.
In Congo, and in many other parts of Africa, HIV is a death sentence. It kills working professionals - soldiers, teachers, businesspeople, and others whose vocations make society work. It leaves grandparents to care for a dozen grandchildren, or, worse, it leaves ten-year-old children as heads of their households, trying to provide for their younger sibilings.
It doesn't have to be this way. It costs so little to save a life. $25 prevents mother-to-infant transmission of HIV for 15 mothers and their infants, it provides 3 HIV tests to identify which mothers need the treatment to prevent mother-to-infant transmission, and it provides a one-year supply of cotrimoxazole, a drug that extends a mother's life for two to three years so she can provide for her children and help them to grow before she dies.
All that for $25.
How strange it is that World AIDS day comes around each year at just the time we Americans are gearing up for our annual season of conspicuous consumption. I am planning to start my Christmas shopping this weekend. I love giving Christmas gifts, wrapping them up just so, and seeing someone enjoy the right gift. I love buying presents for the child whose name I got from the Angel Tree at church - this year I have an eight-year-old girl who wants dress-up clothes. I can't wait to search out fun things that she and her sisters will enjoy playing with all year long. My Christmas list isn't finished, but finding unexpected treasures is part of the fun.
But I can't help thinking about $25. $25, 15 babies' lives, 3 mothers who need to know they have HIV so they won't pass it to their children, 1 mother who could live a year more. $25. What's on your list this World's AIDS Day?