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‘Which one will you save?’ - March 16, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The differences in mother-to-child HIV transmission in the United States and some other countries was brought into sharp contrast during a dinner forum here last month. The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF) Committee hosted the forum at Trinity United Methodist Church for members of the Great Plains and Missouri conferences.

“The good news is the dramatic decrease in the number of babies being born HIV positive in the United States,” said Dr. Don Messer, co-chair of UMGAF. “The U.S. has taken the AIDS pandemic seriously and has taken steps to ensure that no children will be born with HIV.”

Dr. Kevin Ault

Dr. Kevin Ault said clinicians must remain diligent although mandatory testing of HIV-positive women who are pregnant has “been a great public-health success.” (Photo Dr. Don Messer)

Dr. Kevin Ault, an infectious disease OB-GYN at Kansas City Medical Center, explained that the number of babies with HIV peaked in 1992. He said it has steadily decreased due to mandatory testing of HIV-positive women who are pregnant.

“Even though perinatal HIV transmission has been a great public-health success,” Ault cautioned, “clinicians must remain diligent with perinatal testing for all pregnant women so no case goes undetected.”

Ault urged a prevention protocol that would include:

  • Routine HIV screening of all Americans ages 13 to 64
  • Repeat screening annually if at increased risk, and
  • HIV testing should be part of routine care, no need for separate consent and prevention counseling.

Don’t be complacent

“We cannot, however, be complacent about HIV transmission from mother-to-child in developing nations,” said Linda Bales Todd, co-chair of UMGAF. She pointed out that each day, approximately 900 babies are born with HIV. She said this is not only tragic, but preventable.

“There remains a gap in accessibility to testing and drugs for HIV-positive pregnant women because they are poor or live in rural areas, finding it difficult or impossible to obtain health care,” Bales Todd said.

Just Save One is an initiative of UMGAF funding dynamic projects around the globe that work to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child (PMTCT), according to Bales Todd. “We believe the people of The United Methodist Church can help close the gap,” she said.

In 2014 UMGAF funded PMTCT projects in India, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Nigeria, Liberia and Mexico.

Personal stories

Attendees at the forum heard personal stories from retired Bishop Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti, who lost two sons to AIDS; Schaunta James-Boyd, executive director of the E.C. Tyree Health & Dental Clinic; St. Mark United Methodist Church, Wichita; and Yvette Richards, national president, United Methodist Women.

Dr. Anne Gatobu

Dr. Anne Gatobu holds up a Just Save One brochure, and asks “Which one will you save?” (Photo Dr. Don Messer)

Video presentations related to the denomination’s role in combating HIV & AIDS were provided by Bishops Scott Jones and Robert Schnase.

While in the area, UMGAF Committee members also heard from seven staff persons from AIDS organizations in Kansas City, Mo., who testified that coordination among AIDS-focused agencies is critical if people living with AIDS are to receive the highest level of care.

“One way churches can make a difference is to serve as a testing site as well as provide basic information about AIDS to its members,” said David Schlomer, Good Samaritan Project, Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City, Kan., Mayor, the Rev. Mark Holland, welcomed UMGAF to Kansas City, and deplored stigmatization against persons living with HIV & AIDS.

Dr. Anne Gatobu, Asbury Theological Seminary professor and native of Kenya, ended the forum by appealing for funds to help stop mother-to-child transmission. “I got involved,” she said, “when I saw babies infected with HIV, and children without parents due to AIDS.

“We, the Church, must be agents of hope ensuring no more babies are infected and no more parents die.”

Looking over the audience, Gatobu asked: “I got involved, how about you? Which one will you save?”