Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates Say Youth Can Radically Reverse AIDS in South Africa
Mandela calls for “new social revolution” to defeat epidemic
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela today called for a new social revolution to turn back AIDS in South Africa. The remarks came at a special youth forum on AIDS with Bill and Melinda Gates and Mandela’s wife, the former first lady of Mozambique, Graça Machel.
“South Africa has faced extraordinary challenges before, and it has prevailed,” Mr. Mandela said. “Now we must face our greatest challenge—protecting the next generation from AIDS. This will take no less than a new social revolution—one that will break the powerful stigma of AIDS so we can seek help without fear; one that will change the way we think about sex and behave so we can save our lives; one that will support government’s treatment plan to provide live saving treatment for all who need it. The challenge is to see AIDS as a crisis that requires our combined attention and efforts.”
“South Africa is an extraordinary country, poised for tremendous growth and prosperity,” said Bill Gates. “But AIDS is crippling the group that will determine South Africa’s future—its young people. It is the decisions youth make that can radically reverse this epidemic.”
At today’s forum, moderated by youth AIDS educators Vusi Tshose and Sibulele Sibaca, the two couples talked with the group of about 100 young South Africans about AIDS, sex, and the country’s future, emphasizing the urgent need to increase youth-focused HIV prevention efforts, and ensure all South Africans have access to AIDS treatment.
The growth of South Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic is driven primarily by infections among young people. An estimated 50 percent of all new HIV infections in the country are among children and teenagers. HIV infection rates are especially high among girls and young women—up to twice as high as among boys and young men.
“We cannot beat AIDS in South Africa or anywhere until women and girls are protected and respected,” said Melinda Gates. “That means being able to say no to sex or demand the use of a condom. It means ending rape and sexual violence. And it means developing new tools that give women the power to stop AIDS—like a microbicide.”
Adolescent girls are physiologically more vulnerable than older women or men to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, many young girls have sex with older men, who are more likely than young men to be infected with HIV.
Graça Machel, founder and chairperson of the Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique, and former first lady and education minister of that country, said that the continent cannot prevail against AIDS until all Africans can speak openly about the disease.
“A young man in Uganda living with AIDS told me that his greatest freedom is to live openly with AIDS. He has friends, he is not stigmatized, and his family is not ashamed,” said Mrs. Machel. “I know only a handful of families that have openly said that they have lost family members to AIDS. To overcome the stigma, we must talk about AIDS now.”
Experts say that expanded HIV prevention programs for youth are needed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. According to a recent report by the Global HIV Prevention Working Group—an international panel of AIDS experts convened by the Gates Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation—only 8 percent of out-of-school youth in the region and about one-third of in-school youth have access to prevention programs.
UNAIDS and WHO researchers predict that if existing HIV prevention efforts – such as condom distribution, behavior change programs, treatment of sexually-transmitted infections, and HIV testing—are scaled up dramatically, 12.2 million out of 21 million projected new infections could be prevented in sub-Saharan Africa by 2010. This expanded prevention effort for the region would require approximately $573 million in additional annual spending.
Bill and Melinda Gates Visit Johannesburg Clinic, Meet with South African Leaders
Bill and Melinda Gates visited Esselen Street Clinic, which provides HIV/AIDS, STD, tuberculosis and family planning services in an impoverished section of downtown Johannesburg. The clinic, which serves a significant population of current and former sex workers in the area, is also conducting a range of research projects, including cutting-edge studies on HIV/AIDS vaccines and microbicides.
Mr. and Mrs. Gates also convened a roundtable discussion on AIDS with South African leaders. The purpose of the roundtable was to hear diverse perspectives about South Africa’s progress on AIDS, including prevention efforts and recent steps to increase access to treatment. The discussion, which included leading AIDS activists, public health experts, business executives, and religious and civic leaders, was moderated by CNN Johannesburg bureau chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
Mr. and Mrs. Gates are in southern Africa this week to draw attention to the impact of malaria and HIV/AIDS, and to meet with local leaders and health experts. In Mozambique yesterday, they announced $168 million in new funding to help fight malaria, which kills 3,000 African children every day. In Botswana, they will visit the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP), a national HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment program that the foundation has supported with a $50 million grant.