Actress Charlize Theron dreams of AIDS-free S. Africa
Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Charlize Theron hopes to create an AIDS-free generation in her home country South Africa which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world.
The star and the founder of Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project which supports community-based HIV programs, said the country's "ridiculously large" HIV burden was hard to ignore and that prompted her awareness from an early age.
Her project has partnered with other leading organizations fighting the pandemic in the country of her birth.
"We have to be able to put our foot down and say enough is enough, let's end this," she told AFP during her visit to the country. "We just need the resources," she added.
Through her support of Choma Dreams Cafe, a place that aims to empower adolescent girls by providing them access to education, life skills and mentorship, Theron believes that HIV infections can be halted.
"My personal opinion is that we're never gonna stop AIDS by just simply treating it...it's never going to happen," she said. "You cannot wait for people to become infected and think you are going to stop AIDS. You have to invest in young people before they become HIV-positive," she said.
Around seven million South Africans, or 19.2 percent of the population, are living with the virus and adolescent girls are at most risk of infection, according to the UN AIDS agency. According to government, 3.4 million are receiving treatment, in what is said to be the largest roll-out of life-saving drugs.
Charlize Theron. /AFP Photo
Charlize Theron. /AFP Photo
Decreasing HIV infections
Theron said she was "incredibly proud" of South Africa's treatment efforts, although many people who should be on treatment are still not getting it.
The 42-year-old movie star who left South Africa as a teenager stressed that gender inequality and poverty played a major role in the spread of HIV, and that the virus must not be seen as a sexual health problem.
Theron stirred controversy during her speech at the 2016 international AIDS conference in Durban, when she said the virus which is ravaging Africa was fuelled by "sexism, poverty and homophobia".
"I stand by what I said last year," she said emphatically, stressing the importance of a holistic approach in the fight against HIV.
"When you look at HIV and AIDS, you have to look at the factors that are driving it ... you have to see why are these people getting infected."
The Atomic Blonde star mingled with teenage girls at the Choma Dreams Cafe in Soweto -- an Internet-connected resource facility nestled among shacks in the teeming neighborhood blighted by high unemployment and poverty.
The center caters to vulnerable girls aged between six and 18 years old, providing them with HIV prevention tips in fun girl-friendly ways. Some of them are AIDS orphans and exposed to crime and sexual violence which heighten their vulnerability to the disease.
"I think if we can grab them before they become HIV positive, you can actually tell them this is just 100 percent preventable and you don't have to become HIV positive," she said. "I think we would see a decrease in the number of infections."
The Soweto center is one of the 40 hubs spread across South Africa's two most populous provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.