Aids: Mandela calls for leadership

16 July 2004

Just days short of his 86th birthday on 18 July, Nelson Mandela made an urgent call for strong leadership, from all countries and from all sectors of society, to turn the tide of the Aids pandemic.

Addressing delegates at the 15th International Aids Conference in Bangkok on 15 July, Mandela said the world had to meet four main challenges in fighting HIV/Aids: increasing funding; harmonising funding efforts; developing more comprehensive national treatment programmes; and, as a matter of urgency, providing strong leadership.

“And I speak not only of political leaders”, Mandela said, “but also of leaders from every sector of society.”

Leadership, Mandela said, involved both personal commitment and concrete actions. Leaders had to lead the response to HIV/Aids “with clear vision and imaginative action.

“They must dare to be different, and they must be prepared for the course to be difficult. They will be faced with tough decisions, and they must come up with bold and innovative responses. This is what leaders are for, and the Aids epidemic will test their leadership skills to the limits.”

Prisoner number 46664
Mandela’s address followed a screening of a one-hour special on 46664 Cape Town, an all-star concert that took place in South Africa on 29 November 2003 as part of an ongoing music-led campaign to raise global awareness about HIV/Aids and to raise funds for fighting the epidemic in South Africa.

The former Robben Island prisoner number 46664 said that during his incarceration, he and his fellow inmates “were kept alive by our strong sense of hope and the firm knowledge that the world would not forget us … Despite the efforts of the apartheid regime to reduce us to prison numbers and so reduce our humanity, the world did not forget.

“Today, I call upon all of you – every global citizen – not to forget. We must seize this opportunity to demonstrate that we share a common humanity … We must never reduce the issue to statistics.”

The 46664 campaign, Mandela said, would continue to create global awareness of HIV/Aids, to advocate for and support HIV/Aids care, treatment and prevention, and to raise the funds urgently needed to fight the epidemic.

It would also continue to pressurise governments and other agencies to meet their responsibilities, Mandela said, but added: “We cannot leave this matter only to governments and others. We must ask ourselves the question: What can I do as a global citizen?

“The more we create awareness, the more we advocate for more resources, the more we remind others of their responsibilities, the more we must never forget our own responsibilities.”

Mandela had high praise for the “extraordinary example of leadership” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who announced on the same day an additional US$50-million donation to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria,

He added, however, that it was going to take “much more than the resources of the Gates Foundation to achieve the scale-up required to fund the fight against Aids, TB and Malaria. We need to build the public-private partnership that is the vision of the Global Fund. We challenge everyone to help fund the Fund now.”

Mandela concluded: “In a world that is divided along many lines, we now have a unique opportunity to bring us all together around a common challenge. In ensuring that the millions of people who are infected and affected by HIV and Aids are not forgotten, we will not only make a difference to their lives, we will also make a difference to our lives as well. We owe this at least to humanity.

“Give one minute of your life to Aids. Support the 46664 campaign.” reporter