As young people who were born and grew up with HIV, we faced an incredible challenge. Every day presented new obstacles for us and our families. Some days were more difficult than others, and other days -- days spent sick from medications or too afraid to tell our friends our positive status -- seemed nearly impossible.
But we were also incredibly lucky. We were born in the United States to families who could access the medical expertise that saved our lives. But what if we weren't? What if we didn't receive some of the best medical care in the world? What if we didn't have family and support systems to fight for us, making sure we took the dozens of pills daily that kept us alive, taking us to appointment after appointment, even when our parents' own health was failing? We could have easily become a statistic.
Even with the knowledge and medicines to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to children, there are still babies being born with HIV here and around the world. Thousands of children in the U.S. and millions worldwide are living with HIV. With the right treatment, they will survive and thrive just like us. They'll have first days of school, parties, graduations, and children of their own. Without early treatment, half of those children will die by their second birthday. Their journeys will end far too soon.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Over the past two decades, there have been amazing advancements in HIV/AIDS research. When AIDS was first identified in 1981, it was a death sentence, which is what our parents were told. But because of the efforts of so many we now have the treatments needed to keep families healthy.
One of the greatest medical developments was discovering how to prevent HIV from being passed from mother to child -- an option that wasn't available for our moms. Scientists, governments, drug manufacturers, and private donors have come together to create and produce HIV medications for children and adults that are easier to take and can be taken less frequently. They are also working toward an eventual cure. But until then, one of our biggest challenges is just getting the medicines we already have to the millions of people who desperately need them.
In many countries, just getting tested for HIV is a month-long ordeal, one that can take far too long for babies living with HIV who need immediate treatment to survive. And when it comes to making sure that HIV-positive children get the medications they need to stay healthy, only 28 percent of them have access to these drugs. But it doesn't have to be that way.
We are taking a stand -- for ourselves and for the children just like us around the world.
Every child deserves an opportunity to grow up, to have a fifth birthday, to have a first kiss, to follow their dreams -- and if they want, to have a family of their own someday. Every parent deserves to watch their child live a healthy, happy life -- and to help them build their own bright futures.
Join us as we fight for all children and families affected by HIV. Let's keep fighting until an AIDS-free generation becomes a reality.
Jake Glaser, Janice McCall, and Cristina Peña contracted HIV through mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Today, because of the lifesaving medicine they received, they are healthy young adults. As Ambassadors for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, they educate and advocate on behalf of all children and families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. To learn more about their stories, visit www.pedaids.org.