Nelson Mandela: South African hero and advocate for AIDS awareness


Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, the South African activist, politician, philanthropist and lawyer who worked to eradicate apartheid in his home nation and was subsequently elected president in the country’s first democratic elections. Although passionate about many causes to which he devoted his life, Madiba (as he was affectionately known) had one cause that later in life was nearer and dearer to his heart than any others: AIDS awareness.

Makgatho Mandela, the son of Nelson Mandela from his first marriage to Evelyn Mase, died of the disease on January 6, 2005. Nelson Mandela was unaware of Makgatho’s condition until June of 2004. Upon his death, Mandela publicly announced his son had died of AIDS and utilized the opportunity to spread a message about AIDS awareness and acceptance in South Africa. At the time, AIDS was claiming about 600 lives a day throughout the country.

Madiba’s words struck a chord with many South Africans who, as a result of his announcement, looked past the stigma associated with the disease and instead sought to increase awareness and treatment throughout the country. As of August of this year, South Africa has more than 2.4 million people on antiretroviral drugs with increasing numbers each month. The number of clinics offering such medications have increased ten-fold, and there are now more than 23,000 nurses trained to prescribe these medications to AIDS patients. Furthermore—and perhaps the most hopeful sign of all—mother-to-child transmission rates have fallen a staggering 90% and the average life expectancy has increased by ten years.

This progress speaks volumes about how successful international AIDS treatment programs and campaigns to increase awareness can be in addressing the life-threatening disease. But it also demonstrates the necessity and importance of a powerful call-to-action. Madiba was a much-loved figure of immense integrity and standing: his plea for equality helped South Africa eradicate apartheid and his plea for AIDS awareness helped the nation to wage a battle against AIDS. It is Mandela’s commitment to effecting change and bettering the world that he will be remembered for.

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