Former South African President Nelson Mandela this week attended his last surviving son’s memorial and made a stand by telling the world that his 54-year-old son - Makgatho Mandela - died of AIDS.

Such public acknowledgement of the AIDS problem represents a real breakthrough for South Africa where more than five million people are ill or dying from the virus-and where the majority of AIDS deaths are disclosed as “cause of death unknown”.

 PICTURE: Lisa Young (iStockphoto.com)

 

"Such public acknowledgement of the AIDS problem represents a real breakthrough for South Africa where more than five million people are ill or dying from the virus, and where the majority of AIDS deaths are disclosed as 'cause of death unknown'...Quietly we all know that when the cause of death is 'unknown' it is most likely because of AIDS."



The fact that many HIV deaths are kept quiet or never admitted to is of great concern in a country that tops the list of nations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS; a country where - according to Statistics South Africa - 15.2 per cent of population suffered from the disease in 2004.

Quietly we all know that when the cause of death is “unknown” it is most likely because of AIDS.

There is a significant stigma associated with AIDS in South Africa - largely because it is a sexually transmitted disease and because many uneducated South Africans believe that nothing can be done to prevent the illness and death from the virus.

Even President Thabo Mbeki has claimed that HIV does not cause AIDS and that HIV/AIDS is a racial issue.

That being said-Mandela’s public disclosure of his son’s death has been praised by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)-an HIV/AIDS lobby group in South Africa initially set up to help ordinary people gain access to cheaper anti-retroviral medicines.

"Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it-because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB-like cancer-is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary," Mandela shared on the day of his son’s memorial.

The TAC hope Mandela’s announcement regarding his son’s death will encourage more people to be counselled-tested for HIV and-when necessary-treated.

Since leaving office-the former president has helped in a number of ways to fight for the AIDS cause including raising money and supporting the TAC.

He has raised money for AIDS causes and has supported activist groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign-which was founded to help ordinary people gain access to cheaper anti-retroviral medicines.

One can only hope his words are heeded.