News / Africa

South African Activists Recall the Evolution of AIDS Epidemic

FILE - A mother gets antiretroviral  drugs at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa on May 16, 2012.
FILE - A mother gets antiretroviral drugs at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa on May 16, 2012.
In South Africa, the fight against HIV/AIDS was a tough battle for early-days activists and social workers. They had to challenge denial about the virus while navigating a drastic democratic change from the white-minority rule to the Nelson Mandela era. Some activists are still at it, hoping to stem the disease in one of the worlds' most affected countries.

Facing a derelict building, former clinic manager Mary Crewe and her then co-worker Lucia Ngoma recall their fight against HIV/AIDS some 20 years ago. It began in a Esselen Street clinic in Hillbrow, one of the poorest parts of Johannesburg.

They were pioneers Crewe remembers. “When we started here, it was, I think, the first of its kind to look at how a city could respond to the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” she recalled.

She said her clinic team's main challenge was to convince public opinion that HIV/AIDS could affect anybody. “The epidemic at that stage was seen as a white gay Western epidemic," Crewe said. "And I think what we've learned very quickly in Hillbrow was that actually the contrary, it was an epidemic that was affecting everybody.
Even the government in those days was a source of disinformation and showed a lack of understanding about AIDS.  Some leaders initially denied its existence while one health minister infamously suggested it could be cured by easting beetroots.

As the former co-workers walk back in time down now crowded corridors with various new services, another team member, Makie Kunene, remembers little was known about the virus and the young team had to learn about it while trying,  at the same time, to stem an epidemic.

“It was just a trial era, having to read, having to rely on hearsay; we were dealing with something that was quite new to all of us," said Kunene. "We supported each other a lot as a team. And at the same time, we had external help, we used to go for counseling, for debriefing, for sessions where we'd just sat down and talk about our experiences.

Today, Mary Crewe is the director of the centre for the study of HIV/AIDS in Pretoria, which she founded in 1999. Its goal is to reflect and think strategically about a virus which has killed millions worldwide and has no cure.

Over the last two decades, South Africa has made huge progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  While it remains the country with the highest HIV population, it has also been successful in rolling out a model program for the use of anti-retroviral medication to help people live longer.  But Crewe said there is still a long way to go even with the drug program.
“A large number of people who are getting the drugs are hungry. And so if you've got very high levels of malnutrition, low levels of food security, very expensive food starches, and you're asking people to take the drugs, they can't tolerate them quite often," Crewe explained.

The centre also aims to raise awareness among young people.

Crewe works with a team of more than a hundred student volunteers from the University of Pretoria. They are trained and do counselling, community outreach, education and research.

While the number of AIDS related-deaths has decreased globally over the last years, there has been a rise in teens contracting HIV. The World Health Organization said there has been a 50% increase in AIDS among young people between the ages of 10 and 19 between 2005 and 2012.

Law student Nazo Tumsi has been involved with the centre for a couple of years. She says what attracted her in the centre when she first came was that people can speak freely. "It was a space where young people get to speak about things you never get to speak about. And we actually learn something. It was more than just life-orientation in high school. Or they tell you HIV is real so use a condom," he said. "We went way beyond that. It was more about understanding the HIV epidemic more than telling us how we should conduct ourselves in our sexual lives."

About 160 students are currently involved in the centre, despite the stigma they say they sometimes face as HIV/AIDS volunteers. They are part of a new generation of activists and thinkers aiming to understand and fight HIV/AIDS and hopefully, make it become history.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs