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

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid