Celebrating World AIDS Day: U.S. Congressional Delegation Visit to South Africa

On December 1-3, I had the privilege of traveling with Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Terri Sewell (D-AL) and staff from both the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Global Citizen, as part of a learning tour in South Africa. It was a great example of educational activities offering an opportunity to policymakers and donors to foreign assistance to witness the impact of their investments abroad.

Our visit to South Africa came at a perfect time as the country was celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela and World AIDS Day. Prior to my arrival in South Africa, I wondered what insights I would learn about the South African government efforts in partnership with PEPFAR, the Global Fund and other partners combatting HIV/AIDS among women and girls.

Colour My HIV Youth Empowerment Programme event banner. Photo courtesy of the Global Fund

In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the Global Fund hosted two events. The first event, “Colour My HIV Youth Empowerment Programme,” was held in partnership with the South African National AIDS Council and the Government of South Africa in Soweto. The event highlighted the strides that South Africa has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS; the barriers the country still needs to address, especially among women and girls; and a call to action to all South Africans to take responsibility for their health and wellness through their national campaign, “Cheka Impilo – know your status.” Later that evening, the five Members of Congress from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) attended a high-level event which highlighted the progress of South Africa in partnership with the Global Fund on driving down the infection rates among adolescent girls and young women.

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund during the Global Citizens Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo courtesy of the Global Fund

One of the most exciting experiences of my trip was having the opportunity to see all five members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela on stage at the Global Citizen Mandela 100 Festival. Each member emphasized their commitment to eradicating HIV/AIDS and malaria, their work in the U.S. in addressing the needs of black people and other people of color and CBC’s work through the Free South Africa movement to help South Africans dismantle apartheid. During the festival, I also witnessed a powerful combination: U.S. PEPFAR Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx’s announcement of the new U.S. commitment to invest $1.2 billion through PEPFAR and Peter Sands’ announcement of the Global Fund’s plan to commit $369 million in South Africa over the next three years—of which $90 million will go towards preventing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women as those the most at risk.

Rep. Gregory Meeks speaking with young women at Soul City Institute of Social Justice in Mamelodi Township. Photo courtesy of the Global Fund.

In addition to the Global Citizen Festival, the Congressional delegation, staff from both the Global Fund and Global Citizens, and I visited the Soul City Institute for Social Justice—a Global Fund grant recipient in Mamelodi Township. While at Soul City, we got a chance to hear from young women between the ages of 15 and 24 about the impact of the Economic Strengthening Club, which increases their financial independence and decreases their likelihood of contracting HIV. It was inspiring to witness this group of young women speak about the value of the program and their experience since joining it.

U.S. Congressional Members, Global Fund and Global Citizen staff and staff member from Friends of the Global Fight with Lebogang Ramafoko, CEO of Soul City Institute after site visit. Photo courtesy of the Global Fund.

It is stories like these that vividly demonstrate the impact of U.S. leadership in investing to help countries expand their own long-term capacity to respond to their citizens’ health needs. It was a privilege to see the U.S. and the Global Fund’s support for the future of South Africa and beyond as they work to achieve an AIDS-free generation.