#7D4H - Guest Blogger Susan Taylor-Brown #HIV/AIDS

7 DRESSES 4 HEALTH: Day 287 - Day 293 ~ October 14th - October 20th ~ 

Guest Blogger Bio: Susan Taylor-Brown, Phd, MPH is the Director of Operations at EquiCenter, a therapeutic riding facility in Upstate New York. She is also a clinical professor of Pediatrics at the Golisano Children’s Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center. Susan has dedicated her career to improving healthcare for vulnerable populations. Her self-proclaimed proudest life achievement is her family (Susan is also the mother of 7 Dresses 4 Health performance artist, Marian Brown).

Title: HIV/AIDS in America: A Retrospective View from an AIDS Activist

When my children, David & Marian, were babies (2 and a newborn), my attention was captured by a very painful case of a mother pleading for the custody of her children. I no longer have the tattered newspaper clipping, but the headline remains seared in my soul. The gist of it was that an African American mother who was HIV was fighting in court to retain custody of her children who were placed in foster care in a suburb of Detroit. The headline declared that all the mother had was love while the foster care home had all sorts of opportunities including piano lessons. The article literally had a picture of a white baby grand piano; as a professor of social work, the racial metaphor and social class metaphors were not lost on me.  

As I held my newborn, I was enraged, as any loving mother would be. My advocacy spirit kicked in. Along with many other advocates and service providers, who rallied to support the return of these children; the family was reunited. Maternal love is a key developmental building block for all children and this woman clearly loved her children.  

We would never take a child away from a mother who had cancer. Sadly for women, HIV/AIDS in 1987 was considered a serious risk and it disproportionately impacted women from communities of color living in poverty. Across the country, this diagnosis equaled a death sentence. So, all too often, children of HIV mothers were placed away from their mothers when their mothers became sick. Certainly the care and support of a family where a mother is seriously ill presents many challenges. Discussion of AIDS orphans typically discussed the mother and her baby.  

This experience profoundly shaped my career as a professor of social work. In Detroit I surveyed HIV women and found they had an average of 3 children, not the solitary one repeatedly discussed in the media. When we moved to Rochester, NY, I began consulting on cases and strongly advocated for family preservation and supportive services. For 11 years I ran a retreat, Family Unity, for Families, whose lives were touched by HIV. Each Labor Day weekend, we would head to Double “H”, one of Paul Newman’s camps located in the Adirondack Mountains. We had as many volunteers as campers. 

My children were a part of this retreat from the beginning; now both are social entrepreneurs working for health and education equity. Family Unity helped ground them in the importance of health equity. It takes a village to raise us all. 

Fast forward to today, one of the “children” of Family Unity, Leanna, is now a mother, her child is HIV negative. Strikingly, this young mother was diagnosed with AIDS at birth; this is the same time that her mother found out she also had AIDS. Not only is Leanna a mother, she is completing her bachelors degree and is enrolled in a masters degree program in Health Science. Both women are healthy today and enjoying the benefits of Rochester’s progressive team approach to HIV/AIDS treatment that has supported the survival of so many. Twenty eight years later, I could not be prouder of all that Leanna has accomplished and will accomplish; she had a village behind her.

There has been marked progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care since this retrospective beginning in 1987; one incredible feat has been in prevention of mother-to-child transmission. In the absence of any interventions, transmission rates range from 15-45%. This rate can be reduced to levels below 5% with effective interventions. The global community has committed to accelerating progress for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) through an initiative with the goal to eliminate new pediatric HIV infections by 2015 and improve maternal, newborn and child survival and health in the context of HIV. 

Although this goal has not been achieved, progress is being made. Read this NIH report on eliminating PMTCT in the USA and watch Option B currently being piloted in both Malawi and Zambia. 

 We must remember that progress is incremental and advocacy must remain constant.

Call to action:

 Do you have important information around one of our seven causes: HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, Nutrition, Heart Disease, Maternal Child Health, Cancer, Disability, that you want to share with a wider audience? Do you or a loved one currently live and/or struggle with one of these causes? Do you work in research, advocacy, prevention, treatment or care? We want to hear from YOU! Write to us today: 7dresses@artsconnectinternational.org to become a featured blog writer. Another way to get involved is to wear the color of the day in solidarity. Take a picture of yourself in the color of the day and Tweet it @ArtsConnectInt, tag us on Instagram @ArtsConnectInt, or send it to us on 

About 7 Dresses 4 Health (7D4H): 7D4H is a year-long arts and health education campaign lead by visual artist, Marian Brown, in conjunction with Arts Connect International. The objective of the campaign is to promote inclusive community practices through adDRESSing health artistically and collaboratively. To learn more about the genesis of the project, read Marian’s New Year Blog

About this week's look & location: All of the dresses for 7 Dresses 4 Health were designed and sewn by Kim's Fashion Design. Love the look? Visit Kim at 100 Huntington Ave, Boston MA 02116, call her at (617) 267-9299 or email her: info@kimsfashion.com. Mention 7 Dresses 4 Health for a special discount! 

Campaign Update (2017): All 7 Dresses 4 Health blogs were migrated from a former site, so the sharing analytics are inconsistent from when they were first published. We apologize to our guest bloggers, and readers, for this inconvenience. That said, the campaign garnered an average of 5K hits per blog, over 500,000 readers throughout 2015! Additionally, the average number of shares per guest blog was over 150x on social media (through Facebook and Twitter). Thank you for making this incredible campaign possible - and for all that it was for so many. With gratitude, Marian & the ACI Team