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Linda Mafu (left) of South Africa is head of Political and Civil Society Advocacy at the Global Fund. She mentored Feven Haddis (right), deputy CEO and global communications manager of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, as part of the Global Ambassadors Program, held in Johannesburg March 9-13. On March 11, mentors and mentees visited Themba Lethu, a Right to Care HIV/AIDS clinic in Helen Joseph Hospital.

Going to Helen Joseph Hospital was an emotional journey. The last time I was there was 2003, when two of my colleagues fell ill while we were running a training program on treatment literacy. They were living with HIV. We were in the hospital until three in the morning and my colleague Zee was only given Panado. There were no ARVs (antiretrovirals). I remember Zee saying, “Linda, it smells like death.” Sipho and I said simultaneously, “It is not going to be your death.”

On Wednesday, I rode the bus with a really heavy heart. When I got to the Right to Care clinic my spirit was lifted. The staff was happy, the facility users were happy and full of hope, and the smell was a clean hospital smell. I was wonderfully surprised. It was great to hear about managing co-infections. In one center, it’s amazing how they use technology to track and support their facility users. I was so happy to hear about how they have reduced the time spent in hospital. They are doing amazing work.

So I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to celebrate life. In my community when you are happy you sing and when you are angry you sing. In 2003 we sang songs with anger and frustration. We felt defeated. I sang in the hospital to thank the staff acknowledging the work they are doing. I thanked (RED) for mobilizing resources to save lives. I felt grateful that I am part of the movement that is mobilizing resources in the world to save people’s lives. I felt proud that I am a member of the Global Fund team, I celebrated seeing a mother who has gone through PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) and knows that her child is healthy. This gave me a new energy thanks to Vital Voices and (RED) for organizing this. I sang with all my heart amalungelo thina silwela amalungelo ethu! The song means “my rights! I am fighting for my rights, together we are fighting for our rights, our right to live! I sang it with a smile! With a sense of victory! Thank you (RED)! – Linda Mafu

Coming from Ethiopia where the health system is poor, I was expecting a center that just provides ARVs to patients. The extent Right to Care went to make the center user friendly and be a role model for other centers is very remarkable work. The data management system, cleanliness and the pharmaceutical initiatives are all well crafted to help users get the service in best way possible. This makes seamlessly efficient and effective the initiative to reach as many people as possible and worthy the call of action.

I also had a chance to meet two of the mothers who are using ARV medication and able to have HIV negative babies. Their strength and care is beyond expression. I felt privileged to meet and chat to them. I am also felt thrilled to be part of the song Amalungelo that means ‘fighting for rights.’ Yes, these women are fighting for their rights to live and see their kids grow. – Feven Haddis

Read GAP South Africa blogs 12 and 3.

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Photography: David Hume Kennerly