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3 ways Nelson Mandela fought AIDS

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Did you know that Nelson Mandela was, at first, very quiet about AIDS? Yes, Nelson Mandela. The same man who spent 27 years in prison for essentially fighting for justice for the oppressed. But he turned things around as great leaders are known to do. He became a well-known advocate for AIDS causes. Today, as we mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, the uber advocate, this Examiner reflects on three major ways he waged an international war against AIDS.

Denouncing stigma

Nelson Mandela’s last surviving son, Makgatho Lewanika Mandela, died in January 2005 due to complications from AIDS. He left behind four sons of his own. But instead of concealing the cause of death, Nelson Mandela bravely made the announcement about it at a press conference. "I announce that my son has died of AIDS," the 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate told a news conference, urging a redoubled fight against the disease. "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary,".

Started not one but three organizations that fought against AIDS

Nelson Mandela withdrew from the public spotlight in 2004 to concentrate on humanitarian efforts. And concentrate he did. He worked on three different charities that would benefit people with HIV through fundraising and providing access to anti-retroviral treatments.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund assisted children and their families who have been affected by HIV.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation- funds HIV research and public anti-retroviral programs.

46664 (pronounced four double six-six four; Mandela’s former prison number)- a philanthropic organization that raised money through private donations, concerts, and product endorsements.

Combatted ignorance with education

During his presidency, Nelson Mandela didn't immediately address AIDS crisis in South Africa. Doctors and advocates pleaded with the government to provide help but to no avail. Eventually, a National AIDS Plan was developed. In the plan, the minister of health would deal with treatment and prevention strategies. This plan took Mandela out of the picture on AIDS.

Mandela appointed a man named Thabo Mbeki as his deputy president. One of Mbeki’s duties was to oversee the government’s response to the AIDS pandemic, which had already been ravaging many of the countries in the continent killing as many as 1,000 people a day. Unfortunately, Mbeki was an AIDS denialist who didn’t believe that HIV caused AIDS. When Mandela left office, Mbeki succeeded him. Mbeki continued to deny the connection between HIV and AIDS and refused to provide treatment even to rape victims and pregnant women.

Nelson Mandela witnessed how anti-retroviral drugs helped a child get better from an HIV-related infection. He was sold. After deepening his commitment to HIV through charity work, Nelson Mandela called on the government to make anti-retroviral treatment more widely available in South Africa. He took his fight to the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain. In 2005, after a long battle with denialists and Mbeki supporters, Nelson Mandela proudly welcomed the government rollout of anti-retroviral therapy programs in South Africa.

Rest in peace Madiba. You have served your fellow man well. Rest with the understanding that your work was not in vain. You have trained and mentored many, many future leaders to follow in your footsteps and make some footprints of their own. We will always remember and honor your legacy. And the fight for justice, equality and good health for all will go on.

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