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article imageKeren Dunaway-Gonzalez, 12, Set To Open World AIDS Conference Sunday Night

By KJ Mullins     Aug 3, 2008 in Health
Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez is a beautiful little 12-year-old Latin American girl. She is also one of the most prominent faces in the Latin American world when it comes to the HIV virus.
Told by her parents at the age of 5 that the entire family had the virus Keren has grown up knowing about the virus she was born with. She has gone on to spoke out on the virus in a culture that is often silent about sexual matters.
"It's like a little ball that has little dots, and is inside me, sort of swimming inside me," she said in an interview with The Associated Press, curling her fist as she recalls what her parents explained to her with drawings long ago.
Keren edits a magazine, "Llavecitas." It's a children's version of the adult one that her parents publish. Keren's magazine has 10,000 copies every two months going across Honduras.
The active preteen is now popular among her classmates. That was not always the case. When she first started school many of her classmates refused to play with her. She learned that speaking out about the virus made a huge difference.
At the tender age of nine she started to travel with her parents as they went on talks to various schools for their advocacy group "Llaves." In just three years she has visited six countries to share her story. On Sunday she will be on stage with Mexican president and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as they open an international AIDS conference.
In Latin American there are almost 55,000 children that have the HIV virus according to the 2008 U.N. AIDS report. Those children are often not given life saving treatments. More than 60 percent of adults with HIV are receiving antiretroviral drugs in Latin America while only one third of children who are infected get treated for the virus.
Most children with HIV in Latin America are born with the virus.
Even with the lack of medicines most children born with the disease can look to have a long live.
"There's a whole new generation of young people that were born with HIV that are reaching adulthood. It presents very interesting challenges," said Nils Katsberg, UNICEF'S director of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Maria Villanueva Medina, a psychologist with Casa de la Sal says that children with the virus often live a life of secrecy. Casa de la Sal is a orphanage for children with HIV in Mexico City.
Children at the home are told of their HIV status at the age of five. Few of the children tell their classmates where they live.
When the home for children opened up 22 years ago many of the children died before they were teenagers. That has changed. There has not been a death at the home in 10 years. The children are part of the one-third that receive antiretroviral medicine.
"We need to start getting young people involved in leadership again in HIV and AIDS because it's easy to get kind of complacent," said Joe Cristina, whose Los Angeles-based Children Affected by AIDS Foundation helps fund the orphanage.
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