MSH Mourns Death of Nelson Mandela, Fearless Advocate for Health and Human Rights

{Photo credit:  Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory}Photo credit: Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

MSH is deeply saddened by the loss of Nelson Mandela (“Madiba”), South Africa’s iconic first black president who fought to overthrow the oppression of apartheid. Madiba’s unwavering commitment to reconciliation, peace, and human dignity were hallmarks of his  legendary “long walk to freedom.” In 1993, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

In later years after his retirement, Mandela revealed that his son and daughter-in-law had died due to HIV & AIDS and became a courageous advocate, defying the government’s denial of the epidemic.

At the XII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, during the week of July 9-14 2000, he delivered the closing address, “this is the one event where every word uttered, every gesture made, had to be measured against the effect it can and will have on the lives of millions of concrete, real human beings all over this continent and planet. This is not an academic conference. This is, as I understand it, a gathering of human beings concerned about turning around one of the greatest threats humankind has faced, and certainly the greatest after the end of the great wars of the previous century....We need, and there is increasing evidence of, African resolve to fight this war. Others will not save us if we do not primarily commit ourselves.”

Madiba worked tirelessly to end stigma and shame for those living with HIV & AIDS and became a strong supporter of increased prevention and treatment for the thousands living with the disease in South Africa and around the world. Health and human rights became the primary focus of his family foundation’s work as he worked to improve health care for the most disadvantaged.

Nelson Mandela was 95 years old.

“I am only one of thousands of young South Africans who left our country in our teen years, fleeing persecution for our political beliefs and actions, and believing that by leaving our country we would regroup and come back to contribute to the overthrow of the apartheid, racist regime,” said Bada Pharasi, MSH’s Country Representative in South Africa. “ Did we really believe that would happen? I must say that the overwhelming urge for us to go on with the struggle and belief was the specter of Nelson Mandela addressing us in “Freedom Square” one day soon. I speak on behalf of all of our staff of MSH South Africa when I say that Madiba’s passing has deeply saddened us, but that we will draw inspiration from his life.”

“Nelson Mandela was a singular, elegant remarkable man. Without equal. Of course, he knew nothing about me, but boy oh boy, did he mean something to me as I became aware of what I needed to do in the world. He was carving out a presence through sheer force of will and certain brilliance and served as this sort of distant light,” said Scott Kellerman, MD, MSH’s Global Technical Lead on HIV & AIDS and a pediatrician attending the 17th ICASA conference, to begin this weekend in Cape Town.

"A person of Nelson Mandela's quiet strength, personal warmth, moral compass, and vision for a world of universal equality comes along only once in every few generations. His passing provides a moment for all of us to be re-inspired by his life and legacy," said Jonathan D. Quick, MD, President and CEO of MSH.

MSH in South Africa

South Africa has made substantial development gains and boasts a growing economy. Despite these achievements, South Africa still faces the largest HIV-positive population in the world. Apartheid is no longer law, yet the health system still retains many inequities from that era. A major challenge for the government of South Africa is improving the accessibility and quality of basic health services.

MSH started to provide technical assistance to the South Africa Government in 1997 under the USAID-funded EQUITY Project. EQUITY worked toward primary care for all and focused on an integrated package of essential services. Since then,  MSH has been providing technical assistance to strengthen health services with a particular focus on primary health care, district development, leadership development, management information systems, family planning, orphans and vulnerable children, medicines supply and pharmaceutical services, and priority health programs such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. This has been done with funding support from USAID, CDC, the Global Fund, and in close collaboration with the National Department of Health. The MSH approach has been to build local capacity of national, provincial and local decision makers, and transfer knowledge.

With the implementation of the National Health Insurance, the South Africa Government is taking on this new major challenge and MSH is expected to be one the partners that will provide technical assistance and support toward universal health coverage.