Judge Edwin Cameron

Every struggle has a hero and HIV and AIDS is no exception. In a bid to remove the stigma dogging the condition, high-profile people living with HIV are responding to a call to speak openly about their lives with HIV in a new initiative known as the “Heroes’ Campaign”.

“People are not disclosing because they are afraid of stigma. There is stigma because people don’t talk. And people don’t talk because they don’t have the information. This campaign is really around finding prominent people who are living openly with HIV and are willing to share their journey,” said Rhulani Lehloka, Communications Manager of the AIDS Consortium – originators of the initiative – at the campaign launch in Johannesburg, this week.

“Each and everyone who is HIV-positive will know that they’ve had challenges to face and so, we’ve decided ‘let’s go out there, let’s find these people, let’s bring them to you for them to share their journey with you.’”

Judge Edwin Cameron, who was recently appointed to serve in the Constitutional Court, is the first of a dozen of high-profile South Africans to share their heroic story of HIV survival in the campaign. In his usual humble manner, he quickly dispelled the notion that he is a hero.

“I want to correct something about this campaign. It’s called the ‘Heroes’ Campaign’. But I want to tell you who the heroes are. It’s this lady sitting here. It’s that gentleman. It’s all of you. And why are you heroes? [It’s] because you are engaging with this epidemic. You are committed. You are informed. And you’re not silent.”

Almost 30 years into the AIDS epidemic many people continue to die undiagnosed, sometimes they get tested but they never go for treatment, and most often stigma is the cause of this.

“The effect of open discussions with such high-profile South Africans as Judge Cameron will be to remove the secrecy and shame around HIV and AIDS and make people realise that it is an infection that is medically treatable”, said the AIDS Consortium’s Executive Director, Denise Hunt.

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