On the Lifetime drama Army Wives, I play Joan Burton, a woman trying to balance her duties as a colonel in the U.S. Army with her role as a mother and wife. I love playing Joan -- it's an opportunity to explore the reality that thousands of military families live every day. Army Wives also tackles many of the social issues that affect Americans, both on and off the base.
This Sunday, April 1, the show will once again cover an issue that we don't talk about nearly enough in the U.S. these days: HIV and AIDS.
Last season, my husband Roland -- played by Sterling K. Brown -- and I adopted a child who is living with HIV. Through playing the mother of an HIV-positive son, I learned that AIDS is still an issue that affects children. In fact, 1,000 children are infected with HIV around the world every day.
I also learned that each one of these infections is preventable. In the 1980s, children with HIV were primarily infected through blood transfusions -- like Ryan White -- or tragically through their mothers during pregnancy, labor, or breast-feeding -- like the children of Hollywood mom and AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser.
Thankfully, the risk of HIV from blood transfusions is a thing of the past, and we've almost conquered mother-to-child transmission of HIV here at home.
Did you know that with the right medicines and treatment, we can reduce the risk that an HIV-positive mother will pass on the virus to her baby to less than 2 percent?
In the U.S., we have virtually eliminated pediatric AIDS, with fewer than 200 new infections in children each year. Now lifesaving medicines are becoming increasingly available to mothers and children in the areas of the world hardest hit by the epidemic, like sub-Saharan Africa.
While this is a great success story, HIV and children is still very much an issue we need to pay attention to. And as a generation of HIV-positive children grows into adolescence and adulthood, they still have a lot to teach us.
HIV-positive adolescents deal with a host of difficult issues, from taking their medications to dealing with the long-term medical effects of living with HIV. Sadly, they also sometimes face stigma and ignorance about HIV, as we learned in a recent case from Hershey, Penn., where a boy was denied admission to a private school based on his HIV-status.
But HIV-positive children -- like my character's son on Army Wives -- are living proof of how far we've come in the fight against HIV/AIDS, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
Less than 30 years ago, we were just beginning to understand how the disease affects children. Today, because of the incredible efforts of talented researchers, doctors, and organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, we now have lifesaving medicines that give HIV-positive children the chance to live healthy, normal lives. We also have the ability to prevent new infections in children in the first place, and ultimately to create a generation born free of HIV.
But we still have work to do until all children affected by HIV and AIDS in the U.S. and around the world have the support and services they need to stay healthy and happy.
My experience playing Joan has encouraged me to join the global movement to support families affected by HIV everywhere. This Sunday, April 1, I invite you to watch Army Wives as we again address the issue of HIV and children.
I'm going to be tweeting live during the show about this very important subject and how we can help. Join the conversation at @wendyDofficial on Twitter.
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