Seventeen years ago, AIDS attacked a well-known family in Hollywood, California, home to much of the American film and television industry. Out of that tragedy – the deaths of a mother and daughter – sprang an organization that’s now helping young victims of the AIDS pandemic in Africa and elsewhere.
In 1985, television star Paul Michael Glaser and his wife, Elizabeth, learned first hand that HIV/AIDS does not only strike adults. It was a time when not much was known about the disease – and anti-retroviral drugs were still about a decade away.
Kate Carr - president of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation – says the organization was founded during a discussion at a kitchen table.
She says, "Elizabeth Glaser was trying to figure out what was wrong with her then four-year-old daughter. One of the tests they did for Aerial was an AIDS test. And in that process they discovered that she, Elizabeth and her son, who was then a year old, were infected with HIV. The family struggled to find ways that the children could be treated as well as Elizabeth being treated. And it was after Aerial’s death at the age of seven that Elizabeth with two of her best friends sat down and decided to form a foundation that would focus on helping children who were infected with HIV."
Aerial died in 1988. Her brother, Jake, is now 17 years old and is considered a long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS. However, Elizabeth Glaser died from AIDS in 1994. Her legacy is The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation.
Ms. Carr says the foundation now operates its “Call to Action” program in many developing countries, helping prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV by the use of Nevirapine. Studies have shown the drug can prevent HIV from infecting newborns.
"We’re funding programs in 16 countries, many of them in Africa, but also in Russia, in India, in parts of the Caribbean. And we are demonstrating that you can deliver this intervention," she says.
However, she says it’s not enough to save infants, while their parents die of AIDS. She says more treatment programs are needed to prolong the lives of adults and reduce the number of AIDS orphans.
"This is a first step. Being able to block transmission from mother to child at the point of pregnancy is just the first step."
Ms. Carr says with AIDS attacking so many people in the prime of their lives, care of children is often left to the elderly.
She says, "I particularly think of a wonderful grandmother who I met in Uganda. Bernadette, who in her home was raising 34 children. And right next to her home, which was maybe an hour and a half outside of Kampala, Uganda, is a graveyard of her eight children. And all of her children had died from AIDS. And a number of her grandchildren were infected with HIV."
The UN AIDS program, known as UNAIDS, estimates there will be 40-million AIDS orphans in the next ten to fifteen years. Some advocates for the orphans say the number will be closer to 100-million.
Ms. Carr says the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation works with traditional midwives, medical clinics, governments and faith-based organizations.