Nelson Mandela: Standing up for people living with HIV

Posted on: 6th December 2013

This blog comes from Lavy, Body & Soul’s Communications Interm.

“I visited South Africa exactly a year ago. It would be a cliché to talk about how beautiful a country it is. If I said it is a country that I would like to live in some day, you might get a picture of how taken I was by it. I visited and did what all tourists to the country usually do.  One of those must-see places was Robben island – the island that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on for 27 years.

It’s hard to put into words the sense of reverence and respect for the man that such a visit evokes. I understand why the man fondly known as Tata Madiba, is so revered and almost worshipped. I come from India…the land of Mahatma Gandhi. I truly understand.

Here was a man who changed the course of South Africa and delivered it from Apartheid. He deserves every bit of adulation and respect. He goes up further in my esteem for another entirely, first-of-a-kind acknowledgement that can only come from a man who walks the talk.

No political leader, actually no parent, has ever announced on such a public platform that he has lost his son to HIV. With that one announcement, Mandela dramatically changed attitudes towards HIV in a country where it was taboo to talk about it. He truly broke the silence. The timing of this announcement was spot-on. The president of the country had just announced that he believed HIV and AIDS was not caused by a virus but by malnutrition and poverty related causes.

“Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer is to to come out and say somebody has died of HIV/AIDS and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary”.

I wonder if I’d be wrong if I said that this statement changed attitudes around the world.

From then until his death, The Nelson Mandela  Foundation, under his guidance has worked towards ending the stigma to HIV, raising awareness and improving access to treatment. From being a country with just 4% of people living with advanced HIV and AIDS being treated in 2004, by 2007 this figure had risen to 27% and continues to rise.

Perhaps that is a drop in the ocean, but the energy and drive to combat the issue of HIV in South Africa all began with this one unassuming man and his sharing of a very personal tragedy.  Nelson Mandela passed away today, aged 95.  I grieve. And I hope that the country and the world at large will be able to learn and abide by the honesty with which he lived his life and the steadfast commitment with which he pursued his vision.”



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