“Me, Florence Ngobeni-Allen, Mother, HIV positive…”

Le Monde | July 25, 2012

French news outlet Le Monde reporter Paul Benkimoun wrote about Foundation Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen's remarks at the Elton John Capitol Hill Breakfast on Tuesday, July 24th.

She is very intimidated. “My God!” she exclaimed, starting her speech. The morning of July 24, 2012, in the U.S. Senate Gold Room surrounded by imposing marble columns, Florence Ngobeni-Allen, ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, cannot believe it. This HIV-positive mother from South Africa, born in the township of Alexandra, finds herself before an audience of 200 guests the likes of Sir Elton John, Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé, South African Vice President Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe, and many senators and members of the House of Representatives who supervise budgetary decisions for the United States.

Many in the audience were not able to hold back their tears while listening to Florence tell her story. “I discovered I was HIV positive when I was 16 years old, when I lost my five-month-old daughter, who was also HIV positive. I also lost my partner for the same reason. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat. It wasn’t easy to be HIV positive where I lived.” The young woman clung to life. “I am remarried. My husband is HIV negative. We were blessed five years ago with the birth of a son, HIV negative. Eighteen months ago, we knew a new joy of having a second son, also HIV negative.”

If she is still alive, explains Florence Ngobeni-Allen, it is because of the efforts of the South African and American governments through programs in the fight against AIDS. “I lived it. I have traveled this path,” she testifies. “Without your devotion and your initiatives, as well as in my country, South Africa, the care and life-saving advice that I personally received and that I have the opportunity to share with other women like me would not have been possible.”

“AIDS, It’s Not Just Statistics”

Sir Elton John, whose foundation against AIDS has raised more than $240 million (€200 million), and Michel Sidibé were behind the meeting between American and South African representatives, on the sidelines of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. It was placed under the patronage of Senators Patrick Leahy (Democrat) and Lindsey Graham (Republican), respectively president and member of the Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Affairs, and Related Programs. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives, Kay Granger (Republican) and Nita Lowey (Democrat), also intervened to emphasize the bipartisan character of the fight against AIDS in the two houses of Congress.

South African Vice President Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe thanked the United States for their support and investment in the mobilization against the epidemic, also highlighting the efforts of his government since the end of the presidency of Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008), who refused to provide antiretroviral medications to its people. “In South Africa, we are committed to go down to zero[in the transmission of HIV],” he explained. “We have expanded benefits; while we have set a goal of providing information, counseling and testing to 12 million people, we have managed to provide HIV tests for 20 million people, as well as other illnesses like diabetes or hypertension, so that they can be supported.”

Further evidence that, far from harming the fight against other diseases, deployment of programs against AIDS reinforces the effectiveness of health systems. “AIDS, it’s not just statistics,” said Michel Sidibé. “It’s also individuals, lives. HIV is unique in how it raises passion and mobilizes people around a common goal: to end the epidemic. We must build on that momentum and energy to move forward.”