A speech delivered on Sunday 23rd July by Treatment Action Campaign Deputy General Secretary, Sibongile Tshabalala, at the International AIDS Society conference in Paris, France on behalf of activists at the conference.
We lost gogo Prudence Nobantu Mabele. She died in 2017 with a CD4 count of 14. She was the first black woman to publicly disclose her HIV status in 1992 at 21 years old.
She was one of the world’s most visible people living with HIV. She was deputy chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, working alongside the Deputy President of South Africa as co- chair of SANAC representing people living with HIV. She was co- founder of several leading PLHIV networks as NAPWA, TAC, PWN and President of Society of Women and AIDS in South Africa.
And still the virus took her from us. She was one of 1 million-plus deaths that UNAIDS reports
At this conference, we will hear amazing data about what is possible and a lot of rhetoric about “ending AIDS.” But we need to be very clear: the people who say that we will end AIDS are not the people on the ground and they don’t have a clue of what is happening.
AIDS is not over!!!
If the party starts now the end will never come.
Some of you sitting in this room represent governments. Many of you are researchers. Others of you run AIDS programs and too few of you represent communities living with and affected by HIV. You are much of the AIDS response.
And yet today AIDS budgets are falling and the obvious health system investments are still missing.
National AIDS programs are still piloting interventions that can save our lives instead of taking them to scale like differentiated services or PrEP, which practically disappeared from the South African NSP for example.
Legal and public health promises to decriminalize sex are still waiting.
Treatment literacy—a human rights, political education that truly empowers patients—is almost completely missing from programs.
Governments refuse to use their legal power to break the stranglehold of drug companies over medicines we need like MDR and XDR TB drugs and new ARVs.
Billions on research is simply not moving fast enough, perhaps because funding decisions too often prioritise what researchers are interested in rather than what communities say they need.
Where is the research into new TB drugs and TB-HIV drugs? Why is it so difficult to get a fixed dose drug for TB?
I say this not because you in this room should feel guilty. Instead we need you to feel the urgency. To feel the deadly urgency of what inaction looks like. We need you to feel the outrage. Her death was a failure of the health system. We need you to understand that Prudence should still be alive and think in real terms about what we should be doing together—we have to go faster, and we can.
And if Prudence was alive today, she would say to hell with sitting in this meeting, SHUT UP! STOP TALKING! TAKE ACTION!!!
And I say this knowing that if Mark Wainberg were here he would be the first one to agree.
Can everybody please stand.
In her honor and her memory, we pledge the following:
We Pledge to stand in the gaps left by the giants that were Mark Wainberg and Prudence Mabele;
We Pledge to work tirelessly to eliminate the unequal access to New ARV’s, TB drugs, and Tools for people living with HIV everywhere;
We Pledge to work together to do everything we can to strengthen the health system so it works for all, not just for wealthy and those in wealthy countries;
We Pledge to remember to take care of ourselves and to ask every people living with HIV how they are taking care of themselves;
We Pledge to hold governments, donors, corporations and service providers accountable for delivering on the care each people living with HIV needs;
We Pledge to be innovative, unconventional and inconvenient in our approaches to ending the AIDS epidemic;
We Pledge to ensure community-based organizations like the Positive Women’s Network to have the resources and support they need to aid in the fight to end AIDS;
We Pledge to be Proximate, Change the Narrative, Protect the Hope and Never Get Comfortable with the status quo;
We Pledge to never forget the light and the laughter that Pru brought everywhere she went.
We Pledge to mimic the love and the anger that kept Pru going and keeps the rest of us fighting until it’s over!
Long Live the Legacies of Dr. Mark Wainberg and Prudence Nobantu Mabele. LONG LIVE!
For more information contact Lotti Rutter on 081 818 8493 / firstname.lastname@example.org