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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More