One of the big questions I hear when people are considering parenting a child with HIV is “what will their life expectancy be?” Dr. McComsey says “relatively normal life expectancy” and Dr. Gallant says “close to normal”. Medical professionals don’t know the exact answer because children born with HIV/AIDS are nearing 30 years of age at the most (HIV/AIDS was first discovered in this country in the early 1980s). Sadly, many of the children born with HIV in the early days died of AIDS because there were no adequate treatment options. However, children born today with HIV have an excellent prognosis due to the antiretroviral medications. Studies regarding life expectancy are done on adults and it is extremely important to remember that the participants in these studies are often in vastly different situations than children growing up in adoptive families. For example, they have other risk factors that affect their life expectancy in addition to HIV such as poor nutrition, co-infections, IV drug use, homelessness, low socioeconomic status, unhealthy lifestyles and poor adherence to treatment.
Only the most recent studies are worth reading since HIV/AIDS research changes all the time as the treatment options get better. Studies from 2005 indicate anywhere from 6 years less than normal to 21 years less than normal. The average between these 2 extremes is 13.5 years less than the normal US lifespan (78) which is an average life expectancy of 64.5 years (2005). These studies are already 6 years old and the numbers get higher all the time as the medications get better. This means that children born with HIV can live long enough to meet their grandchildren. The best thing we can do to increase life expectancy is encourage our children to lead a healthy lifestyle and diligently adhere to their medications.