Emotions run high at #AIDS2016 countdown event

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
By: 
More Matshediso

Johannesburg - The five-day countdown to the upcoming International AIDS Conference kicked off on a high note on Wednesday, with testimonies from people living with HIV and their many thanks to the late Nkosi Johnson.

Nkosi Johnson was one of the youngest victims of the HIV epidemic, who addressed the International AIDS Conference held in Durban in 2000, and later died from AIDS related illness in 2001.

South Africa will once again host the International AIDS Conference in Durban at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre from Monday to Friday next week.

Emotions were evident on the faces of those gathered at the five-day countdown event for AIDS 2016 held by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at Nkosi’s Haven in Johannesburg, a home named after Nkosi Johnson, which accommodates 94 children and 25 mothers affected by the disease.

Testimonies

Ma Grace is one of the mothers who found a home at Nkosi’s Haven, and the only one amongst the Nkosi’s Haven big family who was lucky to meet Nkosi Johnson.

She shared her ordeal of being discriminated against and ultimately finding a place she called home with her two children.

“When I found out about my status, there was no treatment for HIV and everyone where I used to live did not want to talk to me because they thought I would infect them,” she said.

She was introduced to Gail Johnson, who took her to her home. Grace said her two children also suffered discrimination.  

Judging from the treatment she got from everyone she loved and lived with, Grace thought she had the biggest problem in the world by testing HIV positive, but her hope was restored by the love she received from Gail and Nkosi Johnson.  

“I looked at Nkosi Johnson and told myself that I have to be strong and look after this child and take care of him. He said to me: ‘this is our place for mothers and children’. After hearing those words, I didn’t feel that I was sick. I took care of the boy until his last day on earth,” she said.

She expressed her gratitude to Gail and Nkosi for changing her life.

Lerato Sebitso, a mother who lives at the home with her two boys, said she was nearly 21 years old when she tested positive for HIV, and she was pregnant.

“I was so torn apart. I did not tell anyone at home. It was my own thing. I went back to the hospital for labour. Unfortunately, the pill I was given did not help my son. He was born (HIV positive).

“I never told my family. They found out when my son got admitted at hospital for pneumonia at the age of three months. That’s how my family found out. My sister was my only support system and I found courage because of her. She was always so encouraging and told me to never give up.

“Later, I had a stroke and it was and still is hard for me to go anywhere, even to go fetch my medication at the clinic. So it was hard for my family as well,” said Sebitso.

She was taken to a home, which also transferred her to Nkosi’s Haven, where she and her two sons are currently receiving love and support.

“I am happy. My children are attending school. I am taking my medication and life goes on. I always look forward to tomorrow,” she said.

Progress in fight against HIV

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was moved by the stories of mothers and children. He said what he has observed at the home gives him more vigour to achieve the goal to end HIV.

“We want to bring HIV and AIDS to an end. We are working towards that end. There are quite a number of people who are still sceptical about it but that is our dream. HIV/AIDS has caused enough devastation. It is time to bring it to an end,” he said.

He said statistics show that by 2004, 70 000 children were born HIV positive on an annual basis in South Africa. However, due to the success of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Programme, the numbers have decreased to below 6 000 per annum.

He encouraged mothers who are pregnant and HIV positive to start taking treatment within 14 weeks of their pregnancy to prevent their babies from being infected.

Minister Motsoaledi said only about 400 000 people received anti-retroviral treatment in 2004 in the country. The number has increased to 3.4 million, marking a major stride in saving the lives of people with HIV.

Nkosi’s Haven: a place of hope

Addressing mothers and children at the home, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa thanked Gail Johnson and her family for letting the “seed of peace, hope and understanding blossom at this life-inspiring village”, which he said honours the wishes and memory of Xolani Nkosi Johnson.

“His birth name Xolani captured the yearning for peace, forgiveness and love. The realisation of his dream at this village affords us the opportunity to come to terms with the pain of how AIDS deprived our nation of this courageous, brave young soul at the tender age of 12.

“Nkosi’s Haven has become a place of hope, acceptance and renewal. It is a sanctuary for mothers who need another chance to be in the lives of their children, away from the scorn of the ignorant and the brutality of abusive men. It is a safe place that supports and builds the abandoned, the ill and the weak. It is a community of dreamers and achievers,” said the Deputy President.

He said Nkosi Johnson, as President Nelson Mandela described him, became an international icon of the struggle for life and a great ambassador for millions of South Africans living with HIV.

“Since his fight to be admitted to school in 1997 and his memorable address at the AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, we have made many strides as a country to fight discrimination against people living with HIV, to roll out free ARV treatment and to reduce mother to child transmission,” said the Deputy President.

He said the task of promoting safe sexual behaviour and promoting greater awareness about HIV is a task no one must be exempt from undertaking.

Come conference time, Deputy President Ramaphosa said South Africa will share with the world the progress it has made in combating the AIDS pandemic since 2000.

“We will share with them how Nkosi Johnson remains alive in the lives of the many children and mothers whose lives are rekindled and transformed daily at this village. We will remind them that he remains a source of inspiration to his mother Gail and his extended family here and elsewhere.

“We will insist that the dream of an HIV-free generation remains possible in our lifetime if we all pull our resources together, act in unity and act now. We thank you all at Nkosi’s Haven for allowing us to come here to draw strength and inspiration as we count down to AIDS 2016,” said the Deputy President. - SAnews.gov.za

Nkosi’s Haven

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