DURBAN: KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo hailed South African-born actress Charlize Theron for her fight against HIV/Aids.
He was speaking at the Whizzkids United Health Academy in Edendale township outside Pietermaritzburg yesterday.
Dhlomo said he acknowledged her hard work in fighting the pandemic.
“We are very proud of your work, it has not gone unnoticed. We have been watching you working tirelessly to create public awareness on the scourge of HIV/Aids. This is going a long way in improving the lives of the community.”
Dhlomo added that more than 1 million children in the province were on antiretroviral treatment. He said the department had initiated an awareness campaign in schools and tertiary institutions because people in the age group 15 to 24 were the most vulnerable to contracting the disease.
“This has been exacerbated by the fact that ‘sugar daddies’ and ‘blessers’ were infecting young girls.”
Theron, flanked by co-partner and founder of Whizzkids United Marcus McGilvray, said she was angered that the good work she and others had done to inform people about the disease had been compromised by new infections.
“I am so angry that we have not been able to put a stop to this dreadful disease. It is heartbreaking that new infections are recorded almost every day. Young people need to be empowered and this is do-able.
“Before anybody paid attention to the scourge of HIV/Aids, we saw the grim reality of death all around us. But things are better now with better treatment and prevention.”
McGilvray said young people wanted to have a bright future, although they were faced with multiple challenges. He said the work done by the centre to fight the disease was just a drop in the ocean. But he was proud to have partnered with Theron in empowering people of Edendale.
He told Independent Media that he chose to have his foundation at Edendale because it had been recorded as one of the most affected areas in the world.
“I want to replicate the work done at the centre. I have a plan to build another facility near Scottburgh on the South Coast. But that project is still in the pipeline.”
Doctor Nonhlanhla Madlala, who works at the facility, said the reaction could be very depressing once a teenager found out about her positive status.
She said girls were most vulnerable to the disease because they were prone to rape, which contributed to a huge number of new infections.
She said about 1 000 people were receiving ARVs in the clinic while 200 were on the waiting list.
“It also boils down to the culture of broken-down families. It's a myriad other things and most of the kids are looked after by the gogos. Adolescents have a specific set of challenges, which includes stigma and societal issues. Many of them are living below the poverty line.”
The centre was built in 2007 and it offers support and life skills to the youth.