By Frank Beadle de Palomo, President and Chief Executive Officer, mothers2mothers
“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
This is one of my favourite quotes by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Not only does it capture the essence of his struggle and vision, it also resonates with what we do at mothers2mothers (m2m) and the long walk—filled with challenges and opportunities—faced by the global community working to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Mr. Mandela would have turned 100 years-old today. He has been an inspiration for m2m since our inception and his legacy lives strongly in our mission. He was an important and effective campaigners against HIV/AIDS—both at home in South Africa and around the world. He used his stature and presence on the global stage to stress how fundamental this fight was to the future of his country and humanity.
I will always remember his closing address at the International AIDS Conference in Durban in July 2000 – one of his most significant contributions to the fight against AIDS.
“In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now.” – Nelson Mandela at the international Aids Conference in 2000.
Mr. Mandela highlighted the importance of a comprehensive approach—from HIV testing and counselling to condom use to sustained behaviour change and access to treatment, including being an early proponent of preventing mother-to-child transmission—a central tenet of our work and our Mentor Mother model. In fact, mothers2mothers was founded the very next year. Today, however, political commitment seems to be lagging. Just as we needed 20 years ago, we need continued strong leadership to make AIDS history.
As we look forward to the next 100 years, I am reminded of Mandela’s great hill. At mothers2mothers, we are part of a collective and global movement to reach the global goal of ending AIDS by 2030. But while we were climbing the steep hill of preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, it became clear that there was a wider mountain range of related health needs and illnesses that we needed to tackle to ensure a true HIV-free generation.
We have come a long way and tremendous progress has been made, however, 200 babies are still infected with HIV every day. In 2016, 36.7m people were living with HIV globally, and there were more than 1.8m new infections in that year alone. Adolescents are particularly at risk – women aged 15-24 made up 26 percent of all new infections in East and South Africa, yet represent only 10 percent of the population.
Having achieved virtual elimination of HIV transmission among our client for the fourth year in a row, we know that with our model we can end paediatric AIDS. But even more, we are committed to applying it beyond HIV to advance public health and women’s empowerment across the African continent.
Our long walk is nowhere near over. We will continue, and end, the fight that Nelson Mandela started so bravely and with such conviction. At m2m, we have already evolved our model to meet new challenges and to deliver broader benefits in areas such as Early Childhood Development and Adolescent Mentoring. At mothers2mothers, we will not rest until we have helped unlock the potential of all women to create health and hope for themselves, their babies, their families and their communities, not just in South Africa, but across the African continent.