HIV discrimination against children feels like a 'punch in the gut' for parents

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TODAY — When Shannon Dingle and her family returned home from Uganda after adopting three children, one of whom is HIV positive, she noticed something strange.

Her best friends, a couple she and her husband had been close to for years, were suddenly absent.

“We used to talk on the phone every day,” says Dingle, a Raleigh, N.C., mother of six, “but we’d been home for two months, and I chalked it up to our family still having a lot of culture shock being back.”

She only found what was “really going on” when she asked her girlfriend whether anyone was inquiring about the adoption, figuring acquaintances might be more comfortable asking her best friend than coming directly to her.

“Actually, our best friends told us, they weren’t comfortable having play dates anymore,” recalls Dingle. “They said child accidents occur like skinned knees, and even though I explained HIV is not transmitted that way, and my husband later sat down with her husband and shared all the HIV information we could, they did not want to be around our child who is positive.”

It felt like a punch in the gut, says Dingle. HIV discrimination may seem like a relic of the 1980s, when Ryan White publicly struggled for acceptance and people still worried about “catching AIDS” through casual contact. But for parents of HIV-positive children, that discrimination remains an everyday struggle.

“We want her to know there is no shame in this diagnosis and this is only part of her life,” explains Dingle, who does not disclose which of her children has HIV — she says she uses the female pronoun for convenience.

According to the CDC, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of US babies born with HIV to fewer than 200 per year today. Women with HIV now have less than a 1 percent chance of passing the disease to their babies.

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