Twelve years ago when Dr Tembo gave me the news that I was HIV positive, he gave me only six months to live. While Time magazine’s Man of the Year—Dr. David Ho—had created a cocktail of drugs that could suppress HIV, it would be years before treatment made its way to the poor hospital in Luanshya, Zambia where I lived.
Even five years later, only eight thousand people in Africa had access to these drugs—but millions had died. At the time, few people knew or admitted what had claimed their lives. We called the disease “Slim” or “Kalawe Noko,” which means ‘go and say goodbye to your mother.’ It had no respect of person—it took the young and the strong, leaving behind the weak and the frail.
Proudly today, I have witnessed a great increase in the number of people accessing treatment. Given the “perfect storm” of conditions that allowed AIDS to march across Africa, the fact that the tide is now turning is both remarkable and inspirational. Millions of deaths have been averted. Children can now sleep at night with their parents watching over them.
But I caution to add—our task is far from over. In 2008, for every two people who started taking antiretroviral drugs, another five become newly infected. Access to treatment is a long way from being universal.
We need to maintain the pressure on our elected leaders, our places of worship and our broader communities to march forward.
Twelve years ago, I was given six months to live. I am still fighting, and God willing, I will continue to do so. I will continue to fight until all who require treatment, regardless of where we were born and how we contracted the virus, have access not only to HIV/AIDS treatment, but to all health services. That to me is universal access—and that is a basic human right.
-Princess Kasune Zulu