HIV is nothing to be afraid of, says one mother. What's frightening is the ignorance and discrimination of others.
For that reason, a contributor to the U.S.-based Scary Mommy blog says she is not disclosing her kindergartener's HIV-positive status to other parents, educators, and child minders.
"My HIV child is playing with your child, and you don't know it," the author, who uses the name Jenn Mosher, writes. "She has played with your child at a local private preschool, been dunked next to yours during swim lessons, and stands in line behind your kid in gymnastics class."
Mosher, which the web site BuzzFeed revealed is a pseudonym, writes that her daughter was born with HIV and was given up for adoption in China, where having the virus means being socially outcast. Before the adoption, a social worker advised Mosher not to tell anyone about the child's HIV status.
"Tell no one," Mosher recalls the social worker saying. "There is so much stigma and ignorance out there. Already your Chinese child will stick out in your community. Do you really want to give people another reason not to accept her?"
Not only is it a legally-protected right to keep this information confidential, Mosher points out that modern medications mean her daughter's scraped knees, bloody noses and kisses pose no risk of spreading the virus.
Mosher's blog post has been widely read and shared over the Internet, especially after BuzzFeed published further details about her adoption of HIV-positive children (she has two) and the challenges she faces to ensure they are not socially excluded. Her fear that they will be disinvited to birthday parties, kicked out of private schools or otherwise ostracized is harder than managing the condition itself, she said.
While Mosher's story has been met with much support, the fact that some commenters have balked at the idea of keeping children's HIV status confidential underscores a lack of understanding about how the virus is spread.
As the HIV information resource CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange) explains on its website, the virus can only be transmitted if HIV-infected blood, semen, rectal fluid, vaginal fluid or breast milk enters the bloodstream of another person – hardly the kinds of bodily fluids school children exchange. And because it cannot pass through unbroken skin, it cannot be transmitted by hugs, kisses, coughs and sneezes, nor by using the same toilet seats, eating utensils and swimming pools.
CATIE's online guide, Managing your health: a guide for people living with HIV, acknowledges that many parents find disclosing their child's HIV status to others is one of the most difficult decisions they face. Nevertheless, it suggests that in supportive situations, sharing this information can be a good thing.
"Free from fear of discrimination, the benefits of disclosure include increased confidence and reduced fear for the child; reduced isolation and anxiety; increased support for the family; and increased HIV/AIDS awareness and sense of community for the school," it states.
So while Mosher is perfectly within her rights to keep her children's HIV status a secret, let's hope she doesn't have to do so for long.