Nelson Mandela’s HIV, TB stances were lasting strides in struggle for freedom, rights, equality

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HIVPositive“Nelson Mandela embodied the 20th Century in South Africa and the world in many more ways than people think,” Zackie Achmat, founder and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death Thursday. Winstone Zulu, credited with being the first Zambian to publicly discuss his HIV infection discussed in the last year of his life how meeting Mandela gave him hope. “Madiba!” he said, smiling a decade later at the memory, “that was something.” As Achmat notes in his tribute, all of Mandela’s life, work, sacrifices and struggles were based on the concept that all people are born with equal rights, from political freedom to health. “Nelson Mandela took remarkable stances in his life,” Achmat says. “He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.” What follows is a collection of some of those stances, in memory and gratitude for Mandela’s leadership and impact in global responses to AIDS, tuberculosis, and health as a human right.

Click here to read a joint statement from IDSA and HIVMA on the passing of Nelson Mandela and his lasting legacy to global health.

Poverty goes hand in hand with malnutrition and disease. The incidence of malnutrition and deficiency diseases is very high amongst Africans. Tuberculosis, pellagra, kwashiorkor, gastro-enteritis, and scurvy bring death and destruction of health. The incidence of infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. According to the Medical Officer of Health for Pretoria, tuberculosis kills forty people a day (almost all Africans), and in 1961 there were 58,491 new cases reported. These diseases not only destroy the vital organs of the body, but they result in retarded mental conditions and lack of initiative, and reduce powers of concentration. The secondary results of such conditions affect the whole community and the standard of work performed by African laborers.” Nelson Mandela`s statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964

“The reality of the AIDS epidemic worldwide is that it is not merely a medical condition, it is a disease with socio-medical implication. In South Africa, this problem challenges the entire socio-economic fabric of our society and poses a threat to future generations. Statistics indicate that those forced to live in poor socio-economic conditions are the highest at risk in our population. As of the 30th June this year, 1316 cases of AIDS were recorded, and the majority of these were recorded in Natal, with the highest incidences of AIDS countrywide being recorded in the urban areas. Apartheid`s legacy has played a great role in this factor, particularly in the black communities where overcrowding in homes does not provide for privacy within the family; where lack of housing and the creation of informal settlements as well as the lack of recreation facilities makes the black community even more susceptible to the sex related virus.” Nelson Mandela to the National Conference on AIDS in South Africa, Oct. 23, 1992

“Now, however, the ordinary people of the continent and the world – and particularly the poor who are on our continent, will again carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge – would, if anybody cared to ask their opinions, wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying. And this can only be done in partnership.  . . . I come from a long tradition of collective leadership, consultative decision-making and joint action towards the common good. We have overcome much that many thought insurmountable through an adherence to those practices. In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now.” Nelson Mandela Closing address at the 13th International AIDS Conference, July 2000

“He is a role model and his action is based on fundamental principles, which we all admire. It would have been futile for me to come to him and say I want you now to change, and take drugs because his position is that as long as drugs are not available to everybody, especially to the poor, he will not take them. Now that’s a principled stance which has attracted admiration inside and outside our country. What I’ve come here to do is to find out under what conditions he will take treatment. That’s all.” Nelson Mandela, June 2002, visiting Zackie Achmat at his home, to discuss the activist’s refusal to take antiretroviral medicine when it was not available in the public sector

“AIDS today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria … We must act now for the sake of the world.” Nelson Mandela, 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July, 2002.

“By all accounts, we are dealing with the greatest health crisis in human history. By all measures, we have failed in our quest to contain and treat this scourge.” Nelson Mandela, Second International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment, Paris, July 2003.

“AIDS is no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue.” Nelson Mandela, at the first 46664 concert held at Greenpoint Stadium, Cape Town,  November 2003.

“The more we lack the courage and the will to act, the more we condemn to death our brothers and sisters, our children and our grandchildren. When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of a global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?”  Nelson Mandela, at 46664 Arctic, Tromso, Norway, June 2004.

“My son has died of AIDS.” Nelson Mandela, January, 2005.

“We are all here because of our commitment to fighting AIDS. But we cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB.” Nelson Mandela, Bangkok 15th International AIDS Conference, 2004.

“Even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete. Where there is poverty and sickness including AIDS, where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. “ Nelson Mandela, at the 2008 concert celebrating his 90th birthday.

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