According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 3.4 million children worldwide were living with HIV at the end of 2011, the latest year for which data is available. Many have lost both parents to the virus, and thankfully the majority of these orphans have found care with their grandmothers or other family member. But a small percentage have no one, which is why we are passionate about finding loving homes for them.
Sadly, these orphans are marginalized in their countries and become extremely vulnerable because of the stigma attached to HIV. They are today’s lepers, languishing in orphanages because no one wants them. Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions surrounding this disease. For example, many Americans believe you can become infected with HIV by sharing eating utensils, drinking from a water fountain, shaking hands, or touching a door handle after an HIV-positive person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, casual contact does not spread the virus. Normal interaction between a parent and a child with HIV presents little to no risk. Another misconception is that an infant with HIV will die before he or she is two years old. It is true that children without treatment are at risk to die at a young age, but thanks to the development and availability of antiretroviral drugs (ARV), a person with HIV can be expected to live a long and healthy life.
So what can you expect if you adopt a child with HIV? According to Sara Ruiter, Bethany’s International Services Manager responsible for adoptions and social services in Africa, the biggest drawback for prospective parents is uncertainty.
“Even with access to ARVs, we can’t say definitively what a ‘long and healthy life’ means, but we believe these children have value and deserve to be cared for in a family,” Sara explains. “People think it will be overwhelming, but we have learned that it’s not unlike caring for a child with diabetes.”
To inform, encourage, and inspire parents who are considering adopting a child with HIV, Sara led a team, which included health professionals and parents of children living with HIV, to develop an “HIV Toolkit” (http://www.bethany.org/HIVresources). This powerful package of resources presents a realistic, yet hopeful, look at the challenges families will face as they consider adopting a child living with HIV.
To date, Bethany has brought together more than a dozen children with HIV into loving, educated, and prepared adoptive families and the results have been beyond encouraging. Officials from the countries we work with are incredulous that we would even consider these “throwaway children.” From a Kingdom perspective, we are demonstrating the unconditional love that Jesus has for every person. But what is most gratifying is to hear from families who adopt one of these precious children.
“This experience has really opened our eyes to the stigma that people with HIV still face, mostly due to lack of education and lack of understanding of how it is spread,” wrote one of our adoptive moms. “The daily medical piece is pretty simple; we are very blessed to have access to wonderful support, medical care, and medicines.”
Parenting is never easy, and parenting an adoptive child with HIV has its unique challenges. But the alternative is unacceptable, which is why I am so grateful to our moms and dads—and future adoptive parents—for loving these vulnerable children. If you would like more information on adopting one of the many children with HIV that are currently waiting for a family, Contact us: | Bethany Christian Services.