Young AIDS activist an 'icon of the struggle'

Nkosi Johnson, a young South African boy who became an icon of hope and an outspoken advocate for AIDS sufferers died on Friday

A young South African boy who became an icon of hope and an outspoken advocate for AIDS sufferers died on Friday.

Nkosi Johnson, who was born HIV-positive, died on Friday of AIDS. He was 12.

In his short life, he did much to change attitudes about HIV/AIDS in a country where people suspected of being infected are often shunned.

Nkosi gave an impressive speech last July at the opening of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. He asked in that speech that the stigma be lifted from AIDS sufferers.

He was called an "icon of the struggle for life" by former South African president Nelson Mandela. "He touched many hearts," said Mandela.

Born HIV-positive, Nkosi was raised by a foster mother, Gail Johnson, from the age of two. His birth mother and father both died as a result of complications from AIDS.

Nkosi fought policies that kept HIV-positive children out of public schools, and helped raise money for Nkosi's Haven, a shelter for HIV-positive women and their children.

About 200 children in South Africa are born every day with the virus that causes AIDS. Most die before they reach school age.

In his speech last July, Nkosi urged the South African government to provide HIV-infected pregnant women with drugs to help prevent passing the virus to their babies during childbirth.

The government is still studying the idea.

Nkosi collapsed in December with brain damage and viral infections. Gail Johnson said he died peacefully in his sleep.