World AIDS Day 2012

11.29.12 That was then, this is now


Saturday (Dec. 1) is World AIDS Day, a global event that recognizes where we’ve been and where we’re going in eradicating a horrible disease, especially raising HIV awareness among pregnant women. For many who were around when those first tragic cases developed in the 1980s, the history of AIDS is personal. We took care of friends who got sick or knew people who died. It changed our communities, relationships and health care forever.

Today, about 33 million people in the world have HIV. According to the CDC, about 1,148,200 HIV-positive people live in the United States, but about 18 percent of them don’t know it. After decades watching statistics climb, we’re starting to see plateaus and even declines in new infections. We’ve also witnessed a miraculous turnaround in deaths because HIV is no longer a guaranteed killer. Now, because of medicines called anti-retrovirals, people with HIV are living full, productive and relatively healthy lives and normal life spans — including moms-to-be.

Twenty-six years ago, I was in nursing school at a busy county medical center. We were drilled in how to protect ourselves from such diseases as scabies, tuberculosis, hepatitis and the most mysterious disease most of us had ever seen – AIDS. We learned about double gloving, how to handle needles and bloody bandages and other practical tips for keeping patients and health care providers safe.

I remember a few young women in labor who knew they had HIV and wondered about countless others who didn’t. I remember the courage of the nurses taking care of HIV-positive labor patients. Childbirth is messy, even with the best safety precautions.

A large part of the medical success is due to the dramatic increase of pregnant women receiving HIV testing as a routine part of prenatal care. That means more women know their status and receive treatment and fewer mothers are transmitting HIV to their babies.

While social stigma around HIV remains, diagnosis is no longer a death sentence and people aren’t shunned and shamed in the U.S. the way they used to be. The theme for this year’s World Aids Day is Getting To Zero and because of increased testing and anti-retroviral drugs, getting to zero new infections just might happen in your baby’s lifetime.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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