Young People Reflect On Their Meeting With President Obama
Three young people who have been involved in HIV testing at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre (DTTC) at Stellenbosch University are still brimming with excitement after meeting President Barack Obama in Masiphumelele near Noordhoek in Cape Town.
The trio were part of a group of people who met Obama during a gathering of organizations working in the field of HIV and AIDS on Sunday afternoon. They were given a few minutes each to tell their personal stories to the US President.
Still fresh from their meeting, the three said their family and friends had been amazed that they had met President Obama. They had to keep it top-secret until after the visit.
HIV counsellor, Lindiwe Mvandaba, said she had told the President about her work in TB and HIV counseling and testing and about her passion to help reduce the HIV transmission rate.
‘He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about our work in helping to bring down the rate of HIV in communities,’ she said after talking to him.
Mvandaba, who told Obama that she was HIV-positive, works at the DTTC’s Community’s HIV Prevention (COMAPP) project, which sets up caravans or tents near busy streets, at taxi ranks and train stations across five communities in Cape Town, and brings testing and counseling services to the people.
‘I told him that the project has made such a difference. Many more people are coming forward to be tested for HIV. It’s so encouraging. I love my work as I can empower other people to empower themselves,’ said Mvandaba.
The COMAPP project is supported by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was set up by President George W Bush 10 years ago to respond to the HIV epidemic and continues to support organizations in the field.
Engineering students at the College of Cape Town, Noxolo Ngqono and Neon Mapasure, who told Obama about their experience of being tested for HIV, TB and diabetes at the mobile testing centre in Nyanga, said it was a ‘dream’ to meet the US President.
‘It was an honour.even better than I expected. He was very interested in hearing about the convenience of getting tested where people live and work – near shopping centres and taxi ranks,’ said Ngqondo, who lives in Khayelitsha in Cape Town.
Ngqondo said she was in Gugulethu in Cape Town May when she spotted the mobile unit She encouraged Mapasure to see what it was all about. They met Mvandaba and were tested for HIV and diabetes and screened for TB. Mvandaba also gave them valuable advice about family planning and the benefits of circumcision in helping to reduce the transmission of HIV.
‘Our time with Mvandaba helped us to plan our life together. We want to be role models to show other young people how important it is to care about your HIV status and your health,’ said Mapasure.
Over 120,000 people have been tested so far in five different communities in and around Cape Town. The project provides testing to all people, but targets those who don’t typically access a clinic, specifically ‘well’ people, men, youth and couples.
While thrilled to meet Obama, the trio was also excited to meet Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the patron of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, who spoke about the value of ‘ubuntu’ at the event and warmly welcomed the US President.
The gathering was held at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre in Masiphumelele, where community members from five organizations had the opportunity to talk to the US President.
Sue-Ann Meehan, who heads up the COMAPP project for the Desmond Tutu TB Centre said it had been extremely rewarding to be involved in the project.
‘It’s particularly rewarding to see how PEPFAR, through the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), has recognized the contribution we can make to help reduce the high rate of HIV in our communities,’ said Meehan.
Health Minister, Aaron Motsoaeledi, told President Obama that the HIV infection rate had dropped and that far more South Africans were now on antiretroviral treatment.
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