Andrew Sullivan posted last week about How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in America. Then a follow-up post with reader comments caught my attention. They were reflecting on a terrible crisis that’s largely passed. One person wrote about his daily dose of Complera: “One pill. Every morning. Forever. And I’ll be fine.”
How wonderful for him.
I typed this response:
My friend died of AIDS on April 25 this year. Unlike your reader, he wasn’t taking Complera but a combination of outdated drugs every morning and evening. The drugs themselves were attacking his organs over time. He was only nine. He’s survived by his older sister and many friends who are also living with HIV.
The long term survival of all my young friends living with HIV is very much in question today, because they are poor. A decade ago life saving ARV’s were finally produced for the poor, and today they are still taking the same drugs. There are only two levels of treatment available for them. I hate to think what will happen when the kids on second level treatment start failing, and the time will come. They are dying because their
I just read a chilling article in the New York Times about our prospects in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They’re not good.
During the past 10 years we turned a corner. Cheap medications became widely available, and millions of people worldwide began receiving treatment. Before 2005, getting HIV was a death sentence for the majority worldwide, including more than 2 million children newly infected annually. Then there was hope. But will this hope be sustained, or are we turning a corner in the opposite direction?
…for most of Africa and scattered other countries like Haiti, Guyana and Cambodia, it seems inevitable that the 1990s will return: walking skeletons in the villages, stacks of bodies in morgues, mountains of newly turned earth in cemeteries.
Simply put, the number of newly infected people each year is exceeding the number we can treat. At the same time, funds for the fight are shrinking. Besides the global economic crisis, donors have been redirecting funds to combat malaria and other preventable diseases that actually kill more people than HIV/AIDS.
It would be a terrible tragedy to return to the situation ten years ago when people were dying in such numbers and unimaginable conditions. …
Last September I went to Cambodia with a group of Japanese volunteers, and during our time at Wat Opot I made this short movie. All the actors are kids, mostly orphaned by AIDS (having lost one or both parents).
It’s a movie about friendship and living with HIV. There is a worldwide fear of HIV, but that fear is intensified in cultures with relatively little formal education or medical awareness. When Cambodians were dying by the thousands of AIDS, their own families cast them out, hospitals wouldn’t receive them, and even crematoriums were afraid to burn their bodies for fear that workers might be infected by the smoke.
That was three years ago. Not surprisingly, people living with HIV are still stigmatized in Cambodia.
About 20 percent of the kids at Wat Opot are living with HIV. They have worked hard with the surrounding community to dispel their fears. All the kids at Wat Opot attend the nearby public schools, and they interact freely with kids in the community. That isn’t to say all the fears and stigmas have gone away, but the situation is much better than before. The director wrote the short story that this movie is based …
Did you know more than 300,000 children will likely die of AIDS this year, and more than 2 million will be infected? Most of the deaths will be in Africa. The most important task ahead is to stop new infections, which is much more cheaply done than treating existing ones. Now some would argue that treatment is simply too expensive, relative to prevention which is still lacking (implying that we should let tens of millions of infected poor people die and spend the money on prevention instead). Although I get this in economic terms, I know too many specific children and adults who would probably die if that were the case. I also think the money spent on overhead (doctors, clinics, developing and delivering medicine, etc.) will have many lasting benefits that need to be taken into account.
A baby girl died almost two weeks ago. She survived for two months longer than her mother. Now there are three sisters remaining, all healthy and confused, and a father who is HIV positive but doing well with medication. She was known affectionately as Baby Peak.
The day before she died I held her for awhile so her sister could have a break to play. An eleven year old girl who cared for her dying mother, caring for her dying sister, just wanted to cut and glue paper with the other kids. I did ask her to stop and bring a bottle, which she did, and then I fed Baby Peak. She burped contentedly and fell asleep on my lap. I thought, “Maybe if we all work together we can save her.” She had a will to live. She ate well.
Baby Peak and her sister
She died of AIDS. Technically, she died of some unknown illness. She had started on ARV drugs (that fight HIV), but something already had her in its grip too strongly for any drugs to release her. The local hospital had given up and sent her to the orphanage. There was hope but not much.…