Courage and Commitment: Women Must Unite to Eliminate Pediatric AIDS

By Florence Ngobeni-Allen | March 11, 2014

Foundation Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen (center) smiles beside celebrated fashion designer Victoria Beckham (center-right) at a UNAIDS and Born Free Africa event in Cape Town, South Africa.

Jennifer Bruce/BornFreeAfrica

It is always exciting when women work together to achieve a common goal, especially one that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people. As an Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), I travel around the world talking to various partners and governments about how we can create a world free of HIV.

And last month I participated in an initiative that was truly inspiring.

I joined UNAIDS and Born Free Africa in Cape Town, South Africa for a weekend of advocacy, education, and collaboration. There, I had the pleasure of meeting fashion designer Victoria Beckham, who was in Cape Town to learn more about the HIV epidemic in Africa.

While traveling together to meet a group of HIV-positive women at the Delft Community Health Centre, which is supported by Mothers2Mothers, I shared my own experience as a mother living with HIV.  Victoria listened compassionately as I told her that I lost both my daughter, Nomthunzi, and my first husband to the virus. 

Once Victoria and I arrived at the hospital, we met several other HIV-positive mothers and she learned that, sadly, my story is not unique. HIV continues to have a devastating impact on women and children living in sub-Saharan Africa. Each day, 700 babies are newly infected with HIV, almost of all whom contracted it from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.  Without medication, half of these children will die before their second birthday.

Each woman told her own account of discovering she was HIV-positive. Victoria learned about the stigma people living with HIV continue to face every day. Disclosing one’s status is never easy and in many places, it can have serious negative consequences, such as discrimination and isolation.

As a mother herself, Victoria was moved by her conversations with these women and said she was very grateful for the opportunity to learn more about their lives and the challenges they face.
My recent trip highlighted what I already knew to be true — in order to end this terrible epidemic, we must work together. Women in particular must unite to ensure their voices are heard. We can bring new energy and resolve to Africa and the entire world.  I am so thankful we have public figures, like Victoria Beckham, who can channel their celebrity to give a voice to the millions of women who aren’t yet empowered to speak for themselves.

Personally, I believe that Victoria’s choice to travel to Cape Town to meet women living with HIV is a brave one. It shows that as women and mothers we can all speak up for each other, no matter who we are or where we come from.

On behalf of all women who are HIV positive, I would like to say “Siyabonga” – that is Xhosa for “Thank you.”

Want to hear more inspiring stories from women leading the fight against HIV/AIDS? Be sure to follow @EGPAF on Twitter to join the #WomenInspire conversation and receive the latest updates.

The Born Free Africa initiative seeks to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV by Dec. 31, 2015. By partnering with private businesses, international health nonprofits, and prominent fashion designers, Born Free sheds light on the pandemic and seeks to collaboratively bring about a future free of HIV/AIDS.