It has been amazing this week to read all these remembrances and
quotes and summaries of the greatness of Nelson Mandela. While he
was clearly a flawed and imperfect human (like each of us), he was
clearly a great man who brought about great things. I am especially
amazed by how someone walks out of 27 years of unjust imprisonment
into a legacy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Amazing.
I am also struck by how he recognized the less-visible prisons
that still restrain so many. Prisons of poverty, lack of education,
stigma. Especially, I notice his attention to stigma.
The stigma of HIV imprisons so many of the families that I work
with in Kenya. It keeps them hiding their medicines and hiding
their diagnoses for fear of discrimination and losing all that they
hold dear. It prevents them from telling their children that they
are infected with HIV out of terror that those children might let
this terrible secret slip out. It weighs their hearts down every
day -- until they believe that theyshouldbe ashamed, until they
believe that they are dirty and unworthy andless than.
Mandela saw this stigma around HIV for the prison that it was.
And he especially saw the vulnerability of the children - my
children - children who are living with this virus in their blood
or who have had their parents stolen by this virus.
"The stigma and discrimination inflicted on these children are
atrocious and inexcusable," he said. "Many people suffering from
AIDS and not killed by the disease itself are killed by the stigma
surrounding everybody who has HIV/AIDS. That is why leaders must do
everything in their power to fight and to win the struggle against
Nelson Mandela said that back in 2002. And he didn't just talk
about it. He held babies with HIV. He made world leaders, old men
who hold babies with the awkwardness of unfamiliarity, hold those
babies too. I love it that he visited and held these babies with
this virus. And that he brought the magnitude of his voice and his
spotlight to the issue of HIV-related stigma.
Bill Gates said that this is what he
remembers most and respects about Mandela: "This was something
we talked about a lot every time we met: How could we fight stigma
and spread reliable information about the disease?"
- I love this photo. Bill Gates' father,
Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter -- all holding babies with HIV!
Stigma-fighting at its finest.
I'm turning to work in a major way on HIV stigma in the next few
months. We're starting with focus groups and discussions with
children and parents and other caregivers in Kenya - all about how
stigma in their communities and homes shape the experience of
having HIV. We have talked about this a lot before, but we want to
start to understand much better how stigma works in this setting.
All because we want - we need - to lessen the impact of stigma for
families with HIV.
"Atrocious and inexcusable." Mandela called this stigma what it
is, and I draw strength from his call that we must do everything in
our power to fight and to win the struggle against this stigma.