September 2, 2008

More Americans Adopting Ethiopian HIV-Positive Kids

New figures show that many American families are adopting more Ethiopian children born with HIV.

As many as 14,000 children in Ethiopia are born HIV-positive each year. Children like Solomon Henderson, whose parents left him at an orphanage when he was just 1 year old.

Erin Henderson, a mother of 11 children in rural Wyoming, two of whom are HIV-positive adoptees, said she decided on the spot to adopt young Solomon.

"They told me that they weren't sure he would live through the weekend," Henderson said.

The Henderson family's story is just one example of a steadily growing movement of Americans adopting HIV-positive children from Ethiopia.

Recent figures compiled by US-based Adoption Advocates International, an agency that arranges most of the HIV-positive adoptions in Ethiopia, show a clear and steady rise, from two such adoptions in 2005, four in 2006, 13 in 2007, and 38 either completed or pending this year.

The US Embassy reports that Americans have adopted 25 HIV-positive children from Ethiopia this year, up from seven the year before.

Countries including China, Ghana, Haiti and Russia also have seen increases, although the numbers remain small - fewer than five children in each country this year, according to U.S. adoption agencies that work with HIV-positive children. The figures could be higher, however, as many nations do not ask if a departing child has HIV.

Parents chose to adopt HIV-positive children for various reasons. Julie Hehn, a 53-year-old elementary school teacher from Edmonds, Wash., said she wasn't looking to adopt an HIV-positive child, but her mind was made up when she saw a photo of her daughter.

"I was just scrolling through these pictures, and I saw the photo of Tsegenet, and I said, 'Oh my God, that's my daughter.'"

"I fell in love with Tsegenet and it just happens she's HIV-positive," said Hehn, who has 27 children, 19 of them adopted from Ethiopia and five adopted from the U.S.

Ethiopian adoptions to the United States peaked at 1,255 in 2007, and the adoption of HIV-positive children is growing in step, according to U.S. government figures. American adoptions in Ethiopia have steadily risen from 135 in 2003, to 289 in 2004 to 440 in 2005 to 731 in 2006.

So far, none of the children adopted through Adoption Advocates International in Ethiopia since 2005 has died. The oldest is now 13 years old.

Margaret Fleming, founder of Chances By Choice, an international HIV-positive adoption advocacy group that connects parents with HIV-positive children and adoption agencies, said her group also has overseen adoptions of children from Haiti, Guatemala and Russia.

Fleming, herself an adopting mother of 3 HIV-positive children, said she wanted to make a difference.

"I feel like I'm on the cutting edge of making an impact on this epidemic," Fleming, 72, said by telephone from her office in Chicago. "It's given us a chance to be ambassadors, and our children to be ambassadors." U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt said HIV-positive adoptees pose no public health threat in America. Congress is set to repeal legislation that requires those with HIV to get waivers to enter the U.S. For adopted children with HIV, the waiver requirement can increase the nine- to 12-month adoption process by about two weeks.

"The American people are compassionate people," Leavitt said during a visit to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. "I applaud their compassion and I'm delighted to know they're doing so."

Image Courtesy Kambiz Kamrani


On the Net:

Adoption Advocates International