Sunday November 29, 2015

African women are on the frontlines of the fight against HIV/AIDS

Millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive or are orphaned by AIDS. Few are as fortunate as these boys walking home from the Hot Courses Primary School  in Kenya.

Millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive or are orphaned by AIDS. Few are as fortunate as these boys walking home from the Hot Courses Primary School in Kenya. (Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Listen 33:38

Although the African AIDS epidemic no longer makes the headlines, tens of millions are still living with HIV, and many more are at risk of infection. A disproportionate number of those affected are young women and children. In some countries, girls are more than five times more likely than boys to become HIV positive.

Across the continent, women run clinics and community outreach centres, and provide education and health care delivery. They lead campaigns against sexual violence, and try to reach the tens of millions who are carrying the virus and don't even realise they are infected.

Vuyiseka Dubula and Dorothy Onyango

Tireless activists: Vuyiseka Dubula (left) was only 22 when she got the bad news she was HIV positive in South Africa; Dorothy Onyango (right) was given 6 months to live when she was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1990 in Kenya.

In the spring of 2001, Vuyiseka Dubula was 22 years old. Almost on a whim she took an HIV test and was dumbfounded when it came back positive. She was poor and black in South Africa and it could have been a death sentence. But it wasn't, in part because of the kindness of a stranger. 

A young woman encouraged her to join South Africa's AIDS Treatment Action Campaign, which Stephen Lewis calls the preeminent organization fighting HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Ms Dubula became a volunteer. She rose through the ranks from receptionist to national leader. She has also held key positions on numerous national and international organizations, and is a member of the South African National AIDS Council. Currently she sits on the TAC board, is doing her PHD and is the mother of two HIV negative children. 

In Kenya, Dorothy Onyango tested positive twenty five years ago and was told she had six months to live. She defied the odds, and with $500 dollars of WHO money and a tiny group of HIV positive women, she got "Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya" up and running. 

She too has held numerous important leadership positions. She is on Kenya's National Council for Children's Services, and she is a Chairperson of the Pan African Positive Women's Coalition. 

Ms Onyango and Dubula are in Canada to speak at The Ask Her Talks sponsored by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and they spoke with Michael about their work.