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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs