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Dying South African AIDS boy, 11, urges safe sex

graphic
 

'I see more and more babies die every day'


In this story:

Condemned by ignorance, poverty

'I don't hide my disease'

Prayers to God, pleas to the government

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- Nkosi Johnson, an 11-year-old South African boy with AIDS, has a clear message for the world -- practice safe sex.

Nkosi, left orphaned at age 3 after being dumped by his mother over fears of being ostracized for having an infected child, weighs just 12 kilograms (27 pounds). Yet he has become a symbol of hope in a country ravaged but still grappling to come to terms with AIDS.

Under the care of a white foster mother in a well-to-do Johannesburg suburb, Nkosi has become the longest-living South African child born with HIV.

  ALSO
 

The United Nations, ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday, says that some 3.8 million people have been infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa this year, bringing the number of people living with the disease in the region to a mind-boggling 25.3 million.

Some 4.2 million South Africans are living with HIV-AIDS.

Condemned by ignorance, poverty

Nkosi's peers are dead, condemned by ignorance, poverty and a lack of antiretroviral drugs that could have prevented mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

Nkosi, whose skin is showing the effects of the progression of AIDS, knows he is fortunate and is using his limited time to tell South Africans and the world that sexual behavior must be changed.

"I just want people to know to be careful ... In South Africa I see more and more babies die every day. Their mothers are abandoning their children, throwing them away," Nkosi told Reuters Television at his home.

"When you make love, make love with safer sex, use a condom."

Lack of education and an unwillingness to practice safe sex or even discuss sex openly are pinpointed by health experts as key factors in driving the AIDS epidemic across Africa.

'I don't hide my disease'

Nkosi, who like any child loves to feed his cats, dog and ferret his own food out of his foster mother's fridge, is a rare commodity -- he frankly discusses sex issues as seen through a child's eyes.

"Men don't say to their girlfriends they are HIV-positive, so let's be careful. So they sleep and then their babies get infected and then they leave. ... I don't hide my disease," he said.

Nkosi has few good words for South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has courted a storm of controversy after he cast doubt on the link between HIV and AIDS.

"Thabo Mbeki, our president of South Africa, is not doing the right thing," he said.

Nkosi received cheers at the world's biggest AIDS conference in Durban in July when he spoke out to press Mbeki to allow AZT to be given to pregnant mothers.

Prayers to God, pleas to the government

Nkosi's worst moments come when he is hit with a bout of diarrhea, which, he says, makes him tired.

The boy, who turns 12 in February, came off antiretroviral drugs after four months because they made him sick.

"I pray to God, 'God, why don't you put an ending to this because I'm tired of taking medicines,'" said Nkosi, who must take health supplements, basic antibiotics and vitamins daily.

His foster mother Gayle Johnson is working to set up a nationwide system of care houses where mothers and their infected children can spend time together.

She, too, urged South Africans to be open about the disease and for the government to do more.

"If we were being attacked by five million on our borders this entire country would be mobilized. I would like to see that against HIV-AIDS," she said.



RELATED STORIES:
HIV infections down in sub-Saharan Africa, up worldwide
November 28, 2000
South African unions slam Mbeki over economy, AIDS
September 18, 2000
AIDS meeting in South Africa stirs up hornet's nest
May 6, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Government of South Africa
  •  Department of Health
The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS

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