Reflections on World AIDS Day

I distinctly remember when I first became aware of AIDS: I was a middle school student and there were reports of a disease that killed people with an immediacy that was unbelievable. Blood and exchange of bodily fluids were identified as modes of transmission and a stigma was quickly born. People said, “Stay away from people with AIDS, don’t touch them, beware!” AIDS in the early 80’s was a death sentence.

There were very few people willing to work on the “AIDS wards” but my aunt was a nurse and one of a few who would provide comfort for the individuals stricken with the disease.  I believe hearing her stories had a profound impact on me. As a graduate student I was tested for HIV and was unable to afford to pay for the test and instead volunteered my time to educate others about the true nature of HIV/AIDS. This soon became my passion and my profession.

ONE Mom Renée Ross and Congressman Hank Johnson on Capitol Hill this week

After spending over a decade working on this issue both domestically and in Southern Africa, it has been extremely gratifying to see how far we have come over the last three decades. We are on the verge of eradicating mother-to-child transmission by 2015, which would be a victory for everyone. Although I am no longer professionally working in this field, I am a ONE Mom and have been provided with the awesome opportunity to continue to support this great work.

Earlier this week, I joined nine other ONE moms from across the country in Washington, DC  to  speak to our legislators about the importance of maintaining the less 1% of the budget allocated for foreign aid and avoiding the fiscal cliff. Cutting lifesaving programs would set the fight against AIDS back tremendously. 112,500 pregnant women in Africa would not have access to the anti-retroviral medication that would prevent transmission to their unborn child. Subsequently, 21, 000 children will be born with HIV. As a mother, as an advocate and as a person who has seen how far we have come with this epidemic,  I simply cannot sit by and let this happen. It was my pleasure to lend my voice and advocate on behalf of this population. We have come so far and to have a setback of this magnitude would be devastating.

As we reflect on World AIDS Day this year, I ask that you tell Congress we have to protect the world’s most vulnerable in the fight against AIDS. PLEASE do this ONE thing today!

Renée Ross is a ONE Mom and creator/owner of Cutie Booty Cakes.