Nelson Mandela: A Living Legend in the Fight Against HIV and AIDS
September 23, 2013
To kick-off this year's Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, we asked some of the world's leading experts on deforestation, public health, religion, development and the post-2015 MDGs to help set the stage for this week's discussions on mobilizing for impact. Contributors include the Amazon Conservation Team, the Segal Family Foundation, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, TB and Malaria, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and more.
Burundi Country Representative, Segal Family Foundation
Senior Advisor, Post-2015 Development Agenda, UNICEF
This week, New York City is packed with global leaders and change makers, as the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly descends on the city. One individual who is notably absent, but no doubt on many of our minds, is Nelson Mandela. President Mandela has certainly inspired my life and work – in particular, my deep personal commitment to the global effort to defeat HIV and AIDS. In fact, my wife and I named our first son after him – something that Madiba found rather amusing when we met and spent some time together at his home on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago.
At my company Getty Images, we know well the power of images to effect change. But as an AIDS advocate, I know that a picture is only as powerful as its ability to inspire us to do something, say something, or join with others in partnership to reach our shared goals. This is something at which Madiba has been particularly adept.
Growing up in South Africa, I revered Madiba as someone who sacrificed decades of his own freedom in the fight against apartheid. Unfortunately for my home country, as one hideous affliction rightly faded into the history books, another emerged: HIV and AIDS.
The disease is indeed a war that has killed more than all previous wars, as Madiba has put it. South Africa has felt this keenly; it is home to more people suffering from HIV and AIDS than any other country in the world. And Madiba has felt it not only as the father of a nation, but also simply as a father, period. His son, Makgatho Mandela, lost his life to this brutal disease.
In the past 15 years, my admiration for Madiba has deepened as he used his powerful platform to advocate for treatment, care and ending stigma. I had the honor of discussing it with him and he is acutely aware of the importance of his platform in relation to the disease. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, now the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory, has educated and brought people together to combat HIV and AIDS, just as Madiba united a country to topple apartheid. The foundation’s 46664 campaign (named for his prison-issued number on Robben Island) launched a series of high-profile concerts to capture the attention of youth and inspire a new generation dedicated to social justice and ending the AIDS epidemic.
Efforts like these have inspired my work as Chair of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and as an involved Board Member of Grassroot Soccer, which mobilize governments, advocates and communities to join together to stop the spread of HIV – and to help those with the virus to live long, productive lives.
In recent years, there has been much to show for this kind of collective power. Antiretroviral coverage in South Africa alone has increased to 80 percent, the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies has been reduced to less than 2 percent, and just last year South African researchers announced that they had found a vulnerable spot in the virus, offering new hope for a vaccine.
Progress like this – fueled by the will of the South African government, the work of programs such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the persistence of leaders like Madiba – has brought South Africa to the point where an AIDS-free generation is within reach. There is a lot of work to be done, but we have more knowledge than ever in terms of new technologies, implementing programs on the ground, and targeting high-burden areas to curb the spread of HIV. We must not stop now. Quite the contrary, we must intensify our efforts.
Imagery is at the core of my business and my tremendously gifted colleagues provide me with a constant supply of new, beautiful and riveting photographs that I display proudly in my office. Nelson Mandela’s photograph is one of the very few images, though, that I keep on permanent display. It serves as a constant reminder that one person can make a difference. And when one person touches millions, as Madiba has done, mountains can move. With the sustained support of governments, the private sector, civil society and affected communities, we can get to a place where no one need suffer from AIDS.
I wish Madiba all the best. I wish him a belated 95th birthday. And I wish us all a quick deliverance to that bright spot in the distance: the end of AIDS.