In 2001, at the age of 22, when I thought my life had just begun, I was diagnosed with HIV. At the time, the diagnosis felt like a death sentence. Every day, I waited for my time to die.
However, after two months of waiting, death did not come.
Instead, a colleague came and took me to the offices of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African group fighting for access to HIV treatment for all, where I met other people living with HIV for the first time. And there I learned my first lesson about epidemics: that people living in poverty access the services they need to overcome disease, it will always involve a fight.
This year, it will be 40 years since the first cases of HIV were reported. We have made extraordinary progress in that time. Twenty years ago, when I first learned about my HIV status, science had already gifted humanity with drugs to treat the virus. Yet millions of South Africans like me and many other people living in poverty continued to die. The highly effective antiretroviral therapy cost almost $ 10,000, far beyond our reach.
To make this therapy accessible to people living in poverty, we had to fight. TAC introduced me to the fight for social justice. For most of us at TAC, it was the fight for our lives, because friends and family were dying from the disease. At the time, the South African leadership rejected the science of antiretroviral treatment and let people die.
TAC and other advocates from around the world took to the streets. We recited our wishes and the wishes of millions of people who were dying. We call on governments for negligence and pharmaceutical companies for putting profit before people. We demand measures that ensure access to treatment for all, we demand equity.
We asked for a popular fund that would strive to ensure that everyone, regardless of class, creed or color, could access the treatment they needed to stay alive. The idea of a comprehensive mechanism to help people living in poverty access treatment seemed unthinkable. Some people even doubted that people living in poverty in Africa had enough literacy to adhere to treatment. But we move on. That momentum led to political action and the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – a popular fund with a governance structure that involves civil society, communities and people affected by diseases.
Its impact was immediate. In South Africa, as in many other countries around the world, Global Fund investments catalyzed efforts to treat all people by supporting early treatment initiatives and building the necessary infrastructure. In 2004, I was one of many people who started accessing life-saving treatments.
The impact of the Global Fund partnership, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has changed the rules of the game. Twenty years later and with 38 million lives saved, the association continues to fulfill its mandate.
Vuyiseka Dubula is infected with HIV / AIDS activist and Africa director center for HIV / AIDS management in Stellenbosch University in South Africa