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Gordon Nary

December 1997

The cover of this issue of the Journal may anger some in the art and religious communities. We took a slide of Botticelli's Madonna and Child in a Niche Decorated with Roses and through the wizardry of computer technology replaced the roses with schematic illustrations of the human immunodeficiency virus -- fleurs du mal. We have arrogantly retitled the modified Renaissance masterpiece Madonna and Child in a Niche Decorated with HIV.

We committed this artistic mortal sin for two reasons. First, we wanted to create a powerful image that would demonstrate the irony of celebrating the joy of Christ's nativity with the nativity of the 1000 children born on Christmas Day 1997 who will have been infected with their mother's HIV disease. Second, we wanted to point out to our religious colleagues that some Christian mystics have claimed that Mary knew her son's destiny from the moment of his birth. She knew that he would die at an early age from what was at that time considered to be the most painful and shameful death possible -- crucifixion. Mary had to see the same destiny in her infant son's eyes that is seen in the eyes of the 1000 infants born each day with HIV disease -- most of whom will never have access to HIV/AIDS drugs.

If the mystics were correct, Mary could foresee her son's hours of excruciating pain as he hung from his cross. She would have seen the total anguish in his eyes of his abandonment by society and God himself, when Christ would call out, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' -- 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'

It isn't God who has forsaken the 1000 children born each day with HIV disease. We have forsaken them. We have been reluctant to provide the leadership in pediatric AIDS research. Only two of the four protease inhibitors have pediatric formulas. There are only a fraction of the clinical trials of combination therapy in children that have been conducted in adults. There are not enough children with HIV disease in industrialized nations to justify the investment necessary to keep pediatric HIV research parallel to adult HIV research. There is no sense of urgency to move ahead on collaborative efforts to provide children with the same opportunity for survival that we provide adults.

If Jesus had been born in today's world to a poor family, the birth might have occurred in an abandoned tenement or even a crack house, which are the mangers of our inner cities. If Mary could foresee her son's eventual death in today's world, I wonder if it would have been by crucifixion -- now that we have found even more cruel ways to let our children die.

Many of us get ourselves in the seasonal mood by listening to the Christmas carols and novelty tunes so popular this time of year. I wonder what the mood would be if, instead of listening to the Vienna Choirboys' recording of 'O Holy Night,' there was a chorus of the 350,000 children born with HIV/AIDS this year crying 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?'.

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