Between 2,000 and 4,000 Alabamians are HIV positive and likely don't know it. Among them, pregnant women. That is leading to children being born HIV positive. But, what if there was a way to bring the number of children born HIV positive to "zero"? Well, there is.
According to the latest information from the Alabama Department of Public Health, in 2006 more than 28 percent of the newly diagnosed HIV cases were reported in women of childbearing age. That's considered 15 to 44 years.
One Alabama woman made a conscious decision to have a baby despite her positive status.
A lot of women dream of becoming a parent, including a woman we'll call "Samantha". She is the proud mother of two little girls. But unlike most mothers, Samantha has AIDS.
"Once I found out there was life after being diagnosed, I still had dreams," Samantha explained.
In 1991, babies born in the United States with HIV hit a peak at more than 16,000 births. Since then the Centers for Disease Control reports those numbers have declined to fewer than 200 per year.
In 2012 Alabama saw three infants born with the disease. There were two such births in 2011.
Dr. Laurie Dill with the Medical Aids Outreach says medications have improved over the years and patients are taking fewer, more effective HIV drugs. That means if a mother is treated early she can reduce the transmission of HIV to her child to less than 2 percent.
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"In a lot of the U.S. they're just not seeing babies being born positive because the treatment is so good," Dr. Dill says, "and unfortunately in Alabama we are still seeing some babies being born positive, and it shouldn't be happening."
Barbara Corley, a nurse practitioner, sees 40 to 50 infants a year throughout the Blackbelt and Dothan areas who are born exposed to HIV. She says part of the problem, especially in rural areas, is patient transportation and a lack of knowledge about the disease.
"Most women find out they're pregnant first then they find out they have HIV," Corley explains. "And when the doctor finds out they're HIV then they will tell them that they can't see them anymore."
There are more than 100 hospitals in Alabama, but not all of them will deliver babies at risk of being born with HIV. Fewer than a dozen hospitals in the state will deliver the child. That's not the case in Montgomery. Baptist East, Baptist South and Jackson Hospital will all perform HIV positive births.
"The majority of OBs and hospitals that won't deliver...is because of fear," Corley explained. When asked if there's still a stigma, "Oh yea, it's there," she admitted.
Samantha was tested and treated early for AIDS and knowing her status, she believes she may have saved her children. They were born HIV negative.
"It's truly a blessing. I honestly thank God everyday that they are negative and they will live a healthy life," she says.
They're still little, but they'll learn early about life with AIDS. It's a lesson their mother hopes will save them and somehow stop an epidemic that shouldn't be affecting children.
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