Fourteen-time Grammy Award-winning artist Alicia Keys, 30, had her first baby more than a year ago, a handsome bundle of joy named Egypt. He has "the most perfect eyes and beautiful nose, the sweetest lips, and skin so soft and kissable! Never have I felt such disbelief, such awe, humility, godliness, such strength, power, and possibility," the singer gushes about her son on her blog. Keys and her husband, music producer, rapper, and entrepreneur Swizz Beatz, 33, chose the unusual moniker as a nod to the enduring power of the ancient pyramids built more than two millennia ago in Africa.
Long before Keys fully understood the enduring power of a parent's love, she found the massive scale of suffering among the world's children too dire to ignore. After touring impoverished South Africa for the first time eight years ago, she saw up close how that suffering compounds when HIV is involved.
About 40 million people are living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Each day, 14,000 more become infected. HIV drugs have vastly improved the quality of life for many of these people, but they don't yet provide a cure. That's why researchers are working so hard to develop an HIVvaccine.
"I couldn't turn my back on all I'd seen," Keys tells WebMD. She'd witnessed AIDS orphans and widows across that continent struggling to survive; babies and kids of all ages battling the ravages of the disease they'd inherited from their infected parents; and the elderly -- poor and often incapacitated themselves -- caring for their dead children's offspring because no one else was left to do the job. An entire generation had been destroyed.
Keys: 'To Have to Deal with All These Things'
Enter AIDS activist Leigh Blake. She is the innovative producer behind the 1990s' "Red Hot + Blue," the first concert event and album that banded together musical artists for AIDS efforts. Blake invited Keys to join her on that first eye-opening trip back in 2002, lobbying the voice behind such hits as "Fallin'" and "A Woman's Worth" to use her clout to shine a light on the global AIDS movement and to get involved herself.
The two toured threadbare medical clinics and destitute villages where the poorest of Africans needed the simplest of interventions: antiretroviral medications (ARVs), which at that time were neither affordable nor accessible in third-world nations.
"We don't see more than 16 million U.S. orphans in America because we don't allow it to happen," Blake says. "In the United States, if you need the drugs, you get the drugs. But not too long ago, if you were poor in Africa and had no voice, you didn't. And you died."