The Fight of My Life: One Doctor's Crusade Against Pediatric AIDS

Children walk with activists in a torch light rally ahead of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. The act
Children walk with activists in a torch light rally ahead of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. The activists demanded monthly pension and free ration facilities for sex workers and HIV/AIDS affected people. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

For most children, a birthday or holiday is a day of hope and joy. But for many children you probably do not know, December 1, World AIDS Day, may be the most important date on the calendar, signifying commitment and unity in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the promise of many more birthdays and holidays to come.

As physician-in-chief of Texas Children's Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, I am firmly committed to American children, and cherish my role in helping to ensure that our children have access to health care second to none. It is through this service that my head -- and my heart -- have also led me beyond this country, to the other side of the globe, where I have met and treated some of the world's poorest and least fortunate children and families.

Witnessing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on children and families across the globe has prompted me to act -- not just on December 1, but every day of the year. For nearly 17 years, I have led the development of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI), part of Texas Children's global health initiatives. What began as a small program in Romania today encompasses a network of state-of-the-art children's centers stretching across southern and East Africa, with more than 134,000 HIV-infected children in care.

Across Africa, our centers provide comprehensive medical, psychosocial and prevention services to thousands of HIV-infected infants, children and adult family members, as well as ever-growing numbers of adolescents and young adults -- survivors of what had been a disease almost uniformly lethal by five years of age. Thanks to the widespread availability of HIV testing and antiretroviral medications in places like Botswana, transmission of the virus, including transmission from mother to baby, has been dramatically reduced. This huge public health success story is restoring hope to whole communities across Africa and around the world. And now, the lessons we have learned in scaling up the care, treatment and prevention of pediatric HIV/AIDS are being applied to a multitude of other medical conditions including malaria, tuberculosis, cancer and sickle cell disease, that have robbed children of their health and lives for generations.

My work with BIPAI has made me, and many others, better physicians. I have learned how to diagnose disease using only my hands, eyes, and ears; how to deliver medical care under the most challenging conditions; how to improvise; and how to forge health care partnerships. I have learned how to talk to people who are not only afraid for their lives but also frightened of me, and the tools that I hold. And I have learned how to turn a handful of health professionals and a modest building with virtually no equipment and only a few medications into a thriving medical clinic that provides a lifeline to thousands of sick children.

I have seen firsthand the lifesaving power of modest investments in health care, and I firmly believe that a better future for all citizens of the world will certainly mean a better future for our own children.

So, on this World AIDS Day, I ask that each of you take a moment to reflect on how you can best help. Volunteering, advocating, and donating are just a few of the ways that individuals can impact the fight against HIV/AIDS. Certainly, on World AIDS Day 2012, we have much to celebrate, but also much work yet to do. The reward for our efforts will be nothing less than many thousands of birthdays and holidays that will be cause for celebration, not sadness. Please join me in the fight of my life, against pediatric AIDS.