Recently, we joined Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s family and loved ones, and our dear friends and colleagues in South Africa and throughout the world, in saying goodbye to one of the most beloved and inspirational leaders of our time. In our mourning, we celebrate Mandela’s remarkable life and many accomplishments, including his commitment in raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the devastation the virus has caused in Africa.
Mandela was one of the first public figures to break taboo in speaking about AIDS in South Africa. The attention he brought to the millions of individuals in Africa infected with the virus, helped bring HIV/AIDS out into the open and defy the stigma and shame associated with the virus. He galvanized governments around the world to declare a global AIDS emergency and launched campaigns to raise awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and research.
In 2005, Mandela shared the painful news that his last surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, had died of an AIDS-related illness in an effort to “give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it” and turn it into a “normal illness, just like TB, like cancer,” he said at the time.
Mandela’s call to action in a 2000 World AIDS Day speech still resonates today. “HIV/AIDS is worse than a war. As we speak now, there are thousands of people dying from it. But this war cannot be won. This is one war where you can make a difference,” he declared.
Thanks to the efforts of Mandela and countless number of people on the local and global level, tremendous progress has been made since then in reducing the number of AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections among adults and children, and getting antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to people infected with the virus. Children’s AIDS Art Programme (CAAP) and CAAP, a South Africa Trust, we know first-hand the incredible progress that has been made in saving children’s lives and ensuring babies are born HIV free.
Yet, with more than 1.6 million people dying from AIDS-related causes and 260,000 children infected by HIV around the world each year, much work needs to be done. We hope that the global community will honor Mandela’s legacy by continuing its commitment to ending the pandemic and providing critical support for countries and communities still heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS.
Let us keep Mandela in our hearts and minds, and always remember how he inspired the world by actions, humility, grace, and courage.
Rest in peace, Madiba…we will always love you.