image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/15/c1main.jpg caption=Joy LaFontaine]
From CNN Associate Producer Jennifer Hauser
While doing some research on the potential HIV vaccine, I interviewed a very interesting woman named Joy LaFontaine who is HIV positive. She says she prays every night for a vaccine. “I don’t want to live with this illness anymore….but I won’t let HIV consume me.” She provided some insight into the world of living with HIV.
LaFontaine has been HIV positive for 14 years. She has to take a pill every day to help her survive. She’s been on medication for seven years. Sometimes the side effects of the meds include nightmares or feeling "drunk" after eating certain foods.
It all started on summer break from college when she had unprotected sex with a guy who didn’t tell her he had it. She stopped going to school for awhile as she decided how she was going to go forward with her life. Now she tells everyone about her virus because she wants people to stop living in fear about HIV and AIDS. She went back to school and just graduated from college.
One day she hopes to have a family with the right guy. Some men don’t want to be in a relationship with an HIV-positive woman. It’s also more complicated to have a child. Preventive drugs can be taken so as not to transmit the virus to the baby. According to the March of Dimes, HIV-fighting drugs combined with cesarean section in certain circumstances can reduce the risk of a mother passing HIV on to her baby to 2% or less, compared to 25% for untreated women. Science has made a lot progress since the 1980s.
LaFontaine hopes that if a vaccine is discovered it would work for everyone and that everyone would be willing to get it. She fears that some people would refuse the vaccine. She knows people who get government benefits such as housing and aid for paying the bills because they have HIV. She says some people would rather jeopardize their lives by not getting the vaccine then lose their government benefits. This is something Lafontaine does not live by. She has pushed herself to live an exceptional life despite the virus that lives inside her each day. “If I give up, that’s failure to me. My life has to go on.”
For more on this on the breakthrough toward a vaccine, check out Don Lemon’s interview with other AIDS activists from last weekend. Also visit Paging Dr. Gupta here: http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/09/hiv-antibody-discovery-a-step-toward-vaccine/