Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some background: HIV and adoption part II

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS; left untreated, HIV progresses to AIDS in about 10-13 years, though everyone is different (and treatment should prolong it even further. AIDS is the final stage of HIV and can include opportunistic infections as well as a very compromised immune system.)

How did HIV begin? It was first diagnosed in the US in the early 1980's and was present in Africa even earlier. The simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) found in monkeys and chimpanzees is believed to have been transmitted to humans in Africa (Africans have been hunting these monkeys for centuries in the bush), resulting in HIV. What scientists have struggled to understand is how and why HIV exploded in Africa all of a sudden, and why SIV wasn't hurting the monkeys or the people who had it in their system. The going theory that they are working on right now has to do with serial passage. Apparently when HIV really started coming about in Africa, it was the same time that disposable needles were invented and westerners were making huge humanitarian efforts to vaccinate Africans against all sorts of diseases. However, people were generally not too concerned with sanitation at that point--it just seemed easier and more effective to get as many people vaccinated as possible. What scientists now believe happen is that basically the virus mutated; from getting passed from person to person (thus called serial passage) it changed and essentially became harmful. (I apologize for this oversimplified, crude explanation. I'm not a scientist--heck I didn't even graduate college! PLEASE read "There is No Me Without You" for a far more in-depth look at this. And if I misquoted something someone call me out!)

HIV is spread through sexual contact and blood. It is NOT spread through saliva, you CANNOT catch it from sharing food or drinks or from sitting on a toilet seat, you CANNOT get it from giving someone a hug, kissing them, or from any sort of casual contact.

Yet there remains a lot of fear surrounding the disease, both in our country and in the third world. (Up until very recently, for example, the children at AHOPE in Ethiopia were not allowed to attend the public schools. Now, thank goodness, they are.) It had always seemed to me that taking up the cause of AIDS in the US was a very trendy, celebrity-like thing to do. It seemed very social-conscious and even politically correct.

But I have to be honest and say my experiences over the last year or so have shown me that talking about HIV and AIDS is NOT "popular", or fashionable. There remains a lot of fear, ignorance, and stigma in this country. When we brought our boys home the first question that many people had--including strangers--was if they'd been tested for HIV. I assured them they had, and that they don't have the virus, but what I REALLY wanted to say was, "So what if they DID have it? Would they somehow be less my sons? Would their lives be considered so insignificant and worthless that they wouldn't deserve a family?"

I was at a child's birthday party not too long after returning home and was sharing with someone about one of the orphanages our boys had lived at in Ethiopia, Missionaries of Charity, which is an orphanage for children with AIDS. (Remember Yosef and Biniam tested positive for HIV initially due to their mother's antibodies in their systems.) This person, college educated no less, said, "You're really lucky they didn't catch AIDS there." Huh? That one caught me off guard (and kind of bugged me.) I nicely told her that HIV is not spread through casual contact. She seemed surprised or maybe like she didn't fully believe me, I don't know. Let's just say it wasn't the greatest afternoon, going to a kid's birthday party and having someone tell me I'm lucky my kids didn't magically catch AIDS. Yuck.

I've also been dismayed by what appears to be the Christian response to the AIDS crisis. I think we Christians have kinda been taught (maybe not in such obvious terms but more subtly) that AIDS is a disease of sinners: gay men, drug addicts, promiscuous heterosexuals. They're choosing high risk behaviors and so they're getting what they asked for, right? We don't need to feel too sorry for them or concerned about it. I've even heard the "Christian" theory that AIDS is God's punishment for sexual sin (didn't Jesus already pay the penalty for our sins?)

As for the Christian response to the situation in Africa specifically, you don't hear much about it. What I HAVE heard is the idea that Africans are irresponsible, promiscuous, backwards. (I don't even like writing this stuff out, it is so icky.) Nevermind that families are being torn apart, moms and dads and children are dying, and lifesaving medications are largely unavailable due to pharmaceutical patent laws. Even some adoption agencies refuse to place HIV positive children.

Anyway, I feel like the first step we have to make in fighting the AIDS pandemic and advocating for HIV positive orphans (and children who have been orphaned due to AIDS) is softening our hearts towards those affected and trying to understand more about the implications of the disease: social, physical, emotional, economical. On World AIDS Day the local newsstation did a story on AIDS. But the extent of it was a Cal Poly (go Mustangs) sorority member being interviewed about how she does the "responsible thing" and gets tested for HIV twice a year. I was honestly a little saddened that they didn't at all mention the huge continent that is dying, or the rising rates of HIV in India and Russia.

To be continued...


Rachel said...

from your last paragraph about the Cal Poly girl... wouldn't the responsible thing be abstinence or at least using condoms. It is irresponsible to take a test later to see what may have happened or to take a pill after having unprotected sex because you may have accidentily made a baby in your haste. Sorry, I just cannot believe that was news worthy.

Mike and I watch a lot of cable channels on the weekends and they do have AIDS commercials. The one I remember is of an educated white male that had contracted HIV and was saying that he never thought it could happen to him because he wasn't one of the stereotypes.

Maybe HIV commercials are like hard alcohol commercials, not appropriate for the networks to run. SAD.

I'm enjoying your posts, I know people are reading them and being changed!

Brianna Heldt said...

Yeah Rachel I know, I was really surprised by the way KSBY decided to present World AIDS Day...(I agree, seems like if we're gonna talk "responsible" then at the VERY least be "safe" about sex! Sheesh!)

Anonymous said...

I think a big issue that I struggle with in terms of AIDS in America, is that it is, in fact, a preventable disease. Okay, of course that excludes babies who have no choice and are born with it and the other sorts of things like that...but far and wide, I don't want to say a disease of sinners or that people deserve such a horrendous fate, but I admit it's hard to have a great deal of empathy when you can't help but think that in some ways, if people did quit doing drugs, being sexually promiscuous, the disease as we know it in the United States would phase itself out. Meanwhile, we have a whole laundry list of diseases that are genetic, with no cure (cancer, autism, etc) that are completely void of any kind of behavioral cause/effect. I'm trying to care about it because I think that's what Christ wants of me...but I'll admit it's a little hard to want to focus my efforts on something that is in many ways preventable, when there are so many others out there that maybe aren't nearly as "trendy".

Somehow though, it's much easier for me to have a soft heart towards those in Africa with the disease. Why? I guess because it really is such a pandemic, and the lack of education about it, the very real social stigma you get if you admit to have it (not that there isn't one in the US), and the lack of medical care available makes it such a vicious cycle that it's heartbreaking. And it's much harder to envision an "end" to it.

I think that it's kind of hard to think that with all of the advertising and whatnot we are exposed to here, that anyone would ever say that he didn't know how AIDS was transmitted, etc. In fact, there was even a Law & Order episode about a guy who purposely went around infecting people after knowing he had the virus...and even the poorest of the poor in America has a TV (which is really depressing). There is certainly miseducation about the details of AIDS and how it can be "caught" (as evident in your post) but for the most part, everyone knows some of the basics.

It's an interesting line, and one I've been surprised to see in myself. If I'm open and honest, I will admit outloud that I have a very difficult time wanting to participate in a local AIDS march or donate to the AIDS Center of SLO...but if you ask me to do something that would benefit the cause of AIDS education in Kenya, I'm all for it.


Rachel said...

The public school stance. If a child in the class has HIV, the teacher knows that a student has HIV, not which one, unless the parents choose to disclose that information. Therefore you are to treat each child as if they are infected. For instance, wearing gloves when treating a blood wound and washing your hands well after you are done. That's just good practice anyway. You are also supposed to dispose of bloody tissues and what not in sealed ziplock bags. When I had a diabetic in my class he had a biohazard bin in with his testing supplies where he disposed of everything. Just thought I would share my experience, although the scariest thing I ever came into contact with was a student who potentially had TB while I was pregnant.

kristen borland said...

I agree a little with jeannett in that I do have a bit of a different feeling about AIDS in America vs AIDS in Africa and that I'm more inclined to want to help Africa. Part of that is it's such a huge problem in Africa (and I don't even know the extent of it). I think it's so, so sad that it possibly all became such a huge thing by immunizations with unsanitary needles. That's truly sad. They were trying to do all this good, and probably did do all lot of good, but then possibly started something horrid. I find that hard to wrap my mind around. Thanks for the continued posts...

Laura said...

To other commenters: Why would anyone even judge who that has AIDS is worthy of care and comfort? My brother-in-law lives in Florida and has AIDS. He is less worthy of your help than someone in Africa becuase he is gay? Sin is sin and there is not one person on this board who has not sinned, will not sin or is not thinking about a sin. Judge not lest thee be judged and love your brother. It does not say love your brother who is not gay, or love your brother if he didn't bring it upon himself. It says to love your brother. Let God sort out who shall be judged but you will be judged on your judgement of others.

Brianna Heldt said...

Laura I agree that God should sort things out. It'll always be a struggle to figure out how to stand against sin without crossing the line of "judging", being prideful, etc. There are certain types of sins that are harder for me to feel compassionate towards the sinner and I know it's wrong; I should always be fighting against my pride.

I am so sorry your brother in law is sick. Thanks for posting, especially about your personal experience!


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