Hydeia Broadbent’s legacy lives on through her HIV/Aids activism

Hydeia Broadbent achieved world-wide recognition in the early 1990s as a young girl who was presumed to be born with HIV and diagnosed with Aids at the age of three. Picture: Internet

Hydeia Broadbent achieved world-wide recognition in the early 1990s as a young girl who was presumed to be born with HIV and diagnosed with Aids at the age of three. Picture: Internet

Published Feb 25, 2024


By Tswelopele Makoe

THIS past Tuesday esteemed African-American HIV/Aids activist Hydeia Broadbent passed away at the age of 39. She is distinguished as having inspired legendary basketball superstar Magic Johnson to become an HIV/Aids activist.

Broadbent achieved world-wide recognition in the early 1990s as a young girl who was presumed to be born with HIV and diagnosed with Aids at the age of three.

Her adoptive parents were informed that she would not live past the age of five, but she went on to devote her entire life to HIV and Aids advocacy, awareness and education for decades.

Considered a pioneer, Broadbent was one of the first African-American youth to speak out about the HIV and Aids epidemic.

She garnered international media attention in the late 1980s for being a part of America’s “first generation of children born HIV positive”, said her father.

She began her activism as a young six-year-old, advocating and speaking publicly about HIV and Aids. At the time of Broadbent’s diagnosis and budding activism, very little was known about HIV and Aids, especially in children.

Nevertheless, she was established as a mainstay in the advocacy for HIV and Aids long before medicinal remedies became available.

She was merely seven years old when one of her most notable TV interviews took place: a Nickelodeon special about HIV and Aids alongside legendary basketball star Magic Johnson.

She then went on to do various interviews, with prominent figures like Oprah Winfrey as well as The New York Times, and various other HIV and Aids organisations.

She grew exponentially in her activism, leading various partnerships including one with the Aids Healthcare Foundation, and leading billboard campaigns about HIV and Aids awareness across the US.

Broadbent also spoke at universities, schools and conferences. She famously spoke at the 1996 Republican National Convention and various other international platforms in order to spread awareness about the illness.

In addition to this, she formed the Hydeia L Broadbent Foundation, and she received many accolades including a Spirit Award, an Essence Award, and a Most Influential 150 Americans award by the American Red Cross organisation.

In our society, figures such as Broadbent are critical and pivotal to our futures. Often conversations around HIV and Aids are related to sexual activity and responsibilities. But young activists like Broadbent opened our eyes to the realities of children living with HIV and Aids .

They showed us the degree to which innocent children are adversely and involuntarily affected by the illness.

Although HIV and Aids is now a widely recognised illness, it is still plaguing our modern-day societies.

An article by John Elflein reveals that the countries with the highest rates of HIV and Aids include eSwatini, Lesotho and South Africa. Other countries such as Zimbabwe have significantly decreased their HIV prevalence.

Ultimately, government collaborative work, and community-based HIV services are considered very important to the prevention and treatment of HIV and Aids.

According to Statistics South Africa, 8.45 million people were living with HIV in 2022. The World Bank reported that 270 000 of those were children between 0 and 14 years of age.

The Sixth South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, and Behaviour survey (SABSSM VI) conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), highlights the impact of the HIV epidemic in South Africa.

HIV prevalence varied geographically, ranging from 8% in the Western Cape to 22% in KwaZulu-Natal. Furthermore, HIV prevalence was nearly twice as high among women (20%) compared to men (12%). By race, HIV prevalence was highest among black Africans (20%), followed by coloureds (5%), and lowest among whites and Indian/Asian people (1% each).

The 2022 survey shows that South Africa has made significant progress toward the UNaids 95-95-95 targets, which outline that by 2025 95% of all people living with HIV and Aids need to be aware of their status. Also, 95% of those who are aware of their status need to be on antiretroviral treatment (ART), and 95% of those on ART also need to know that they are living with HIV in order to help achieve viral load suppression.

The SABSSM VI survey showed that among people aged 15 and older living with HIV and Aids in South Africa in 2022, 90% were aware of their status, 91% of those that were aware of their status were on ART, and more than 90% of those on ART were virally suppressed.

These figures are impressive considering the high rate of HIV and Aids in our society. They also show that the proliferation of awareness and activism is key to addressing the HIV and Aids epidemic.

There are various factors that contribute to the expansion, or reduction of the rate of HIV and Aids. Poverty, corruption, food insecurity, child and adult prostitution, illiteracy, substance abuse, gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), circumcision, polygamy, internal conflicts and refugee status, ignorance of an individual's HIV status, and other factors contribute to the spread of HIV and Aids.

South Africa is a highly multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual context with various traditions and cultural practices. Awareness of HIV and Aids, and its interventions, needs to be intentionally incorporated into the various facets of our dynamic society.

Safe sex practices, post-exposure prophylaxis, and the promotion of HIV testing stations are key to addressing this issue.

HIV and Aids in modern South African society directly affect our socio-economic development. Additionally, illnesses such as these are debilitating and can have a rampant impact.

People who are ill have more expenses, and less time to maintain an adequate income. This is especially worsened among children who are infected and have to be wary of their daily activities and interactions.

This illness can be debilitating not only to one’s physical health, but also one’s mental health. It is pertinent that preventative measures are well-known and easily applicable. HIV and Aids need every sector of our society so that they can be addressed effectively.

The reality is that our contemporary society is plagued by HIV and Aids. It is the innocent children infected with Aids that bear the brunt of this illness.

We as a society are directly responsible for our future, and we cannot mitigate the prevalence of HIV and Aids without vigorous and collaborative effort.

From political, to educational, to institutional, we need a collective effort in order to ensure that this illness is stifled in our society. Activism is central to actualising a society that is safe and secure for the future generations.

There have been countless South African HIV and Aids activists such as Lucky Mazibuko, Mercy Makhalemele, Nozi Qamngana-Mayaba, Andrew Mosane, and especially child activists like the Nkosi Johnson and Hydeia Broadbent, who share their stories, not only to inspire but to educate society – and the world – on the realities of living with HIV and Aids.

People who live for a cause and die for a cause will never be forgotten. They live for others and contribute meaningfully to their society, and the world at large.

Former president Nelson Mandela once said: “We are all human, and the HIV/Aids epidemic affects us all in the end. If we discard people who are dying from Aids, then we can no longer call ourselves people.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a gender activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent and IOL. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.