As UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador, Kenneth shares a personal account of his recent visit to the African country.
Monday, Day 1:
Arriving in South Africa
“I have always been enamored of South Africa—it’s an extraordinary country with a rich culture. The connection to nature is unparalleled, and I’m fascinated by how wonderfully preserved it is. But there is a public health crisis here unlike any other, and I’ve been afforded a unique opportunity to look at a number of ground-breaking South African projects that are advancing access to HIV and TB services for people living with HIV. A lot of people don’t know that people living with HIV are five times more likely to develop TB after an infection than someone without HIV.
As I embark on this trip, it marks the beginning of my tenure as a UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador. Since my last time here, significant improvements have been made, but young women are still contracting HIV at extraordinary rates and resistance to drugs is proving to be a huge barrier to success. The prevailing wisdom is that we need to move quickly to control and eradicate. If we don’t, we will lose time and may never be able to get the disease under control again.”
Tuesday, Day 2:
Operation Sukuma Sakhe War Room & Household, Phoneix Township
“The meeting in the war room was unlike any I’ve ever experienced—the community coming together, expressing themselves in a passionate and articulate way. It was impressive to see individuals join forces with such a sense of accountability. Then when we went into an actual household, I was able to meet four generations of strong women, all embodying promise, aspiration, and inspiration.”
Durban University of Technology Speech
“One of the main things I took away from speaking to the students here was that HIV is one of their primary concerns—the impact it has had on them and their lives. The sentiment was that ‘if AIDS exists anywhere, it exists everywhere.’ It clearly affects them every day of their lives.”
Wednesday, Day 3:
King DinuZulu Hospital
“This hospital was unique to those I’ve been in, mainly because there is a focus on one specific disease affecting patients of all ages. My heart broke at the sight of the little children there, but the staff was very attentive and sensitive to their circumstances. One of the facts this visit drove home was that there are a disproportionate number of people living with TB here. The more people become resistant to the drugs, the more resistant the strains of the virus become. Without a cure, we’ll see more and more people dying.”
Caprisa AIDS Research Center
“This is not your typical research community—it’s made up of mostly women who are truly enthusiastic. I got a clear, confident sense that these are the people who will be a huge part of ending AIDS. It was inspiring to see this group of powerful women, adding so much to the global AIDS response, especially since it just happened to be International Women’s Day.”
“The staff at the TB/HIV Care Association Sex Worker Outreach Project gave me a warm African welcome. Here you have women who have chosen a profession that is stigmatized, but have chosen it because they had to. The peer educators, many of whom were sex workers themselves, are able to help these other women learn the risks of being in such a profession and empower them to make safe choices. Hearing all their stories really affected me, and I’m so grateful they have access to treatment, prevention and law enforcement.”
Thursday, Day 4:
Mothers 2 Mothers
“This was such an exciting visit because I met with Mothers 2 Mothers 12 years ago, and to see the change today is really encouraging. The women were empowered and trying to engage their partners, which was taboo only 12 years earlier. There has been great progress made in breaking down the stigma.”
Being able to witness firsthand the most important two obstacles in the fight against AIDS—drug resistance and girls becoming infected—was hugely impactful. Reading about this doesn’t have the same effect as actually seeing it. It reinforced my belief that this needs to be a collective effort and the energy in the community here leaves me very hopeful.