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Brenda's Journey
Utopia

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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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Researchers hope to learn everything from how women are getting infected to which women are being given medications. Significantly, the protocol will also offer the first solid information on how women are benefitting from the remarkable new drugs called protease inhibitors. Shown to reduce the virus in the bloodstream to undetectable levels, these drugs have profound implications for long-term survival with AIDS.

Some of those on the three-drug protease "cocktail" have experienced near-miraculous recoveries. But the drugs have not worked for everyone, and they are not a cure. Aside from their often intolerable side effects, they are expensive and tremendously complicated to take. Some protease regimens require 20 pills a day -- some to be taken with food, some without -- and can cost as much as $20,000 a year, making them an option for only the best-insured patients. Moreover, unless the drugs are taken properly, the virus can quickly become resistant to them, setting the stage for reproduction of new mutant strains of HIV.

Through the study, Wyatt and her colleagues also hope to cultivate a better understanding of the social aspects of the disease: how women with HIV negotiate dating or being in a committed relationship. How their partners adjust. What women tell their children. Do they even reveal that they're sick?

Already, AIDS workers have learned that women with HIV are more motivated to take care of their health if they can go to a facility that also treats their children. But while the medical community makes progress in improving care for women with HIV, the social stigma associated with the disease is unmitigated. Women today are where gay men were at the beginning of the epidemic 15 years ago. Isolated, in hiding, alone.

"I had the baby," Brenda announces on my voicemail.

I call her back. She sounds sleepy and distant and happy. Like a new mom.

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