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Alicia Keys Gives Back to Kids Affected by HIV and AIDS

Singer/songwriter and new mom Alicia Keys tells WebMD what drives her to travel the world to help children, plus how you can help!

Starting Keep a Child Alive

Keys signed on in 2003 as co-founder of Keep a Child Alive (keepachildalive.org) with Blake and became the organization's public face. To date, KCA has helped an estimated 250,000 AIDS patients and their families, many of them children. The group provides lifesaving medications, urgent-care clinics, follow-up treatment and counseling, much-needed orphanages, and continuing education. They also offer skills training to help the young and widowed learn new trades. Facilities and health care staff are located in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, and India.

The ARVs are key. Laura Guay, MD, vice president of research at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, explains how ARVs work.

"ARVs are combinations of drugs that target different parts of the virus's reproductive cycle," Guay tells WebMD. "Limiting the virus's reproduction is a critical factor in fighting AIDS. However, HIV can mutate and develop resistance to these drugs. So multiple drugs are needed in multiple combinations to manage HIV as a chronic disease, one that a person can live with as long as the drugs are accessible."

Among the biggest challenges for KCA and other organizations administering ARVs, Guay adds, are accessibility along with monitoring viral loads to detect the amount of HIV in the bloodstream. "In Africa, critical resources and tools are simply not there. So the general principle is to choose groups of drugs that are most likely to treat most of the population with minimal side effects -- and that are also cost-effective."

Keeping AIDS from Spreading in Africa

And when resistance sets in? "That's the difference between first-line and second-line medications," Guay explains. "We try to offer the affordable, easy-to-manage drugs first. Then, over time, bring out others."

Keys points out that securing funding and accessibility for these second-line medications has become KCA's most important goal. "That, and we're so close to finding a cure," says Keys.

"Already, new research has shown that in 96% of cases, patients on ARVs aren't spreading the disease," Keys says. "That means AIDS can be stopped. Our ultimate goal is for Keep a Child Alive not to exist. When there are no more infected kids or parents, we would love, most of all, not to be needed."

"Alicia is right," Guay confirms. "What we've seen is that in discordant couples, where one spouse is HIV-positive and the other isn't, when the positive partner is given ARVs, in more than 95% of cases he isn't transmitting HIV to his spouse, even if they are sexually active.

"ARVs decrease viral loads to undetectable levels, making the likelihood of infecting someone else, or a mother transmitting the virus to her child, decrease significantly," Guay adds. "It's not a cure yet, but it's a significant development in halting the spread of AIDS in these populations."

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