“We were having two or three funerals a day,” she said of the early days of the disease in her district in San Francisco where the mysterious symptoms were rampant. “So when I went to Congress I said I was coming here to fight HIV and AIDS,” she recalled.
Her colleagues at the time were baffled. “Why would you say that? Why would you want that to be the first thing people think about you?” she remembered them asking.
“They were not even ashamed to say such a thing, and I was ashamed for them.” Even in San Francisco, “people were shocked that I hugged” a friend with the disease, she explained.
One young woman who inspired Pelosi was Elizabeth Glaser, who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion while in childbirth in 1981. Glaser passed HIV along to her two children in utero and through breastfeeding. Her daughter died in 1988, and Glaser passed away six years later after establishing a foundation for pediatric AIDS education and research. Last night, Glaser’s surviving child, Jake, presented the California Democrat with the Congressional Global Champion Award on behalf of his mother.
The flower girl in Pelosi’s wedding to her husband, Paul, died of AIDS while still in her twenties. “We never asked her how she contracted it,” Pelosi said last night.
One of Pelosi’s earliest victories was getting a physician speaking before a congressional committee to admit that he would use the same medications to treat children with AIDS.
“There is nothing like the determination of a mother,” she explained. “Elizabeth was first and foremost a mom. I have five children, so I could identify with that.”
Today pediatric AIDS is a rarity in the U.S., yet Pelosi says there’s still more work to be done, especially on the House Appropriations Committee.
“It’s a resourceful disease. Just when you think you’ve got it, it mutates,” she said.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation has a staff of more than 1,000 spread across the world, helping disadvantaged women from transmitting AIDS to their babies. Last year Secretary of State John Kerry announced that 1 million children have been born HIV-free, thanks to global health programs.
— Stephanie Green (@stephlgreen) June 25, 2014