“I play before capacity crowds and get an awful sense of fulfillment from that. But the emotion cannot compare to listening to Florence this morning,” so said Elton at a Congressional Global AIDS breakfast meeting he hosted yesterday in the Kennedy Caucus Room in partnership with UNAIDS.
The breakfast was part of the many events taking place alongside the 19th International AIDS Conference.
Florence Ngobeni, an HIV-positive mother from Soweto who is also on the Board of Health-e News Service, shared the stage with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Sir Elton, and a number of American politicians.
She told her personal story of HIV and AIDS. “I discovered that I was HIV-positive after the birth of my first child, Nomthunzi, who died when she was only five months old. At that time, HIV treatment was non-existent for children in South Africa, and barely even available for adults.”
She was devastated by the loss of her baby. A little while later, she lost her partner too. She had to make a decision whether she was going to fight or give up. She decided to fight.
Her fight-back involved disclosing her HIV status – something that was not easy given the stigma then associated with the disease – and counselling pregnant women living with HIV. In addition to being a counsellor she spoke out on issues related to HIV and AIDS, especially access to treatment.
Florence is full of praises for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), initiated by former US President George Bush, and the leadership in general which brought wider availability of antiretroviral treatment and programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“I am alive today because of PEPFAR. Thank you to the American people for their generosity.”
She also thanked Motlanthe, (who appears in this article’s photo with Elton), and the government for taking unambiguous steps to address the epidemic in South Africa and for enhancing coordination in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Today, Florence is married with two children, both of whom are HIV-negative. She is a strong advocate of providing antiretroviral therapy to pregnant women living with HIV to prevent the transmission of HIV to infants.
She received sustained applause and a standing ovation.