Black Women’s Health Empowerment Blog Feature

LeSherri James’ featured blog originally appeared on the Black Women’s Health Empowerment website on April 28, 2016.


When you’re pregnant and HIV-positive, where do you turn?
By LeSherri James

In 2003, I was pregnant, homeless, and HIV-positive. But worst of all, I felt completely helpless and had nowhere to turn for help. I received my diagnosis after my senior year of high school; in college, I thought I might be pregnant. I went to the doctor to make sure.

The doctor confirmed the pregnancy. This should be a happy experience in a woman’s life, but for many women living with HIV it is confusing, scary and stressful. Pregnancy for HIV-positive women is often filled with unsympathetic strangers, family members and even medical professionals. Lucky for me, my mother was with me every step of the way.

Unfortunately, my doctor was a generalist and didn’t know how to provide care to someone living with HIV, let alone help them deliver a healthy baby. I needed the care of an HIV specialist. I waited at the hospital for six hours before my doctor referred me to someone who could help. That was when the hospital’s HIV social worker directed me to the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI), which connected me to the care I needed.

I was immediately assigned a case manager, Jaime, who genuinely cared about my health and wellbeing. Jaime made sure I got to my doctor’s appointments on time, filled my prescriptions and enrolled in prenatal training courses so I could learn how to care for my child. She also helped me sign up for health insurance and food assistance and find my very own apartment. The support PACPI provided is the reason my daughter was born without HIV. And even after I delivered, PACPI continued to empower and teach me how to be a strong and independent mother – something I wouldn’t be without them.

PAPCI saved me. I can’t imagine my life without this organization. Besides my mother, PACPI was the only support I had during my pregnancy. Today, I am able to provide for myself and my children and, most importantly, my daughter and son are HIV-negative and completely healthy.

We’re the lucky ones. But with the proposed cuts to the Illinois state budget, programs like PACPI may have to close their doors because Gov. Bruce Rauner considers them to be “nonessential.” Excuse me? That budget provided the resources to save my life and the lives of my babies—how can the governor, who swore an oath to protect the citizens of Illinois, consider our lives “nonessential”?

If a program that gives HIV-positive pregnant women the resources they need to deliver healthy babies shuts down, these vulnerable mothers will be left on their own without the tools or knowledge to navigate their delicate situation.

Without PACPI, what will happen to other expectant mothers who need help and empowerment like I did and have nowhere else to go? What will the 130 women PACPI supports each year do without care and guidance? What will happen to their children?

Do our lives not matter?

It’s time for the governor and the General Assembly to come together to pass a budget that doesn’t cut vital social services. Such a budget would not only keep PACPI running, but it would help women give birth to a future without HIV.

LeSherri James lives in Chicago.

Chicago Foundation for Women Grants $15,000 to PACPI

Chicago Foundation for Women Grants $15,000 to Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative to Make an Investment in Women and Girls

Chicago Foundation for Women’s spring 2015 primary cycle focused on freedom from violence and health access and awareness.

Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI) was awarded $15,000 for their Perinatal HIV Enhanced Case Management from the General Fund at Chicago Foundation for Women. The spring 2015 primary cycle at Chicago Foundation for Women awarded $570,000 in grants to 34 Chicagoland programs. Perinatal HIV Enhanced Case Management intends to help vulnerable HIV-positive pregnant women to have healthy, HIV-negative newborns and establish a strong connection to continuing care for each mother and child.

CFW awarded 12 grants focused on access to health and health information. CFW grantees in the health portfolio are committed to supporting some of the most vulnerable women in Chicago. All grantee organizations serve or impact low-income women or women below the poverty line.


5 Reasons to Visit the New 24/7 Illinois Perinatal HIV Hotline Website

5 Reasons to Visit the New 24/7 Illinois Perinatal HIV Hotline Website

  1. The new Hotline website is easier to navigate and has a cleaner look. Key resources are quickly found on the home page.
  2. Caring for an HIV-positive woman in labor? The “hot” red button at the top of the home page lists step-by-step instructions on how to treat your patient. Call the Hotline and we’ll provide clinical consultation, referral, and follow-up assistance.
  3. Quickly access links to best practices and care recommendations for HIV-positive women in labor and women or infants with preliminary positive rapid HIV tests.
  4. You’ll find recent news and research as well as links for patients and other service providers.
  5. The Hotline website is THE resource for anything related to pregnancy and HIV.

SHARE the Hotline website with anyone who works in a hospital, clinic-based setting, or social service agency that serves pregnant women.

Hotline banner

NIH-Sponsored Study Identifies Superior Drug Regimen for Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced this week that the findings from their PROMISE randomized clinical trial shows that taking a three-drug regimen during pregnancy prevents mother-to-child HIV transmission more effectively than taking one drug during pregnancy, another during labor and two more after giving birth.

“This is another important step in our efforts to define the best approaches toward the goal of eliminating of mother-to-child HIV transmission globally,” Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH.

The study enrolled more than 3,500 HIV-infected pregnant or post-partum women who did not meet national criteria for receiving anti-HIV treatment and more than 3,200 HIV-exposed infants of these women in India, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The participating women and children are being followed until two years after the last child is born to address questions about the safety and efficacy of anti-HIV drug regimens taken during the breastfeeding period. The study also is assessing maternal health after the breastfeeding period among women in good immune health who either stop or continue taking triple-drug anti-HIV regimens.

PACPI Board and Staff Members Co-Author Article on Rapid Testing

PACPI Executive Director Anne Statton and PACPI Board Members Dr. Patricia Garcia and Dr. William Grobman co-authored the article “Perinatal HIV testing and diagnosis in Illinois after implementation of the Perinatal Rapid Testing Initiative” in the November 2012 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Read the article (PDF), written in collaboration with Dr. Amy Wong, Yolanda Olszewski, Dr. Ann Bryant Borders, and Dr. Mardge Cohen.

Legal Guide to HIV & Pregnancy

A comprehensive report and guide outlining the medical and legal surrounding HIV and pregnancy in the US is available through the Center for HIV Law & Policy website. The Legal Supplement, available upon request, details the legal issues advocates may face when representing a woman living with HIV throughout pregnancy, and provides legal arguments and strategies to best represent women living with HIV.

To request a copy of the Legal Supplement, please contact Rene Bennett at

To download the HIV and Pregnancy guide (without the Supplement), go to: