Remarks by Nelson Mandela: "Confronting the Joint HIV/TB Epidemics"

15 July 2004, XV International AIDS Conference, Bangkok

Dr. Gayle, members of the press, and management and staff of the Gates Foundation.

We are all here because of our commitment to fighting AIDS. But we cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB. TB is too often a death sentence for people with AIDS.

It does not have to be this way. We have known how to cure TB for more than 50 years. What we have lacked is the will and the resources to quickly diagnose people with TB and get them the treatment they need.

We have also lost ground in the fight against TB in the face of a spreading AIDS epidemic. That's why the grant that the Gates Foundation is announcing to the CREATE Consortium is so critical. I hope this research will give us the weapons to fight TB in places that have been hard hit by AIDS.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Winstone Zulu, who will share his experience fighting HIV and TB with you. There have been so few TB survivors who have stepped forward to share their stories. We need more advocates like Winstone to tell the world about TB and the effect it has on so many millions of people.

I was in jail when they took a specimen of my sputum and sent it to hospital. I was diagnosed with TB. When the report came back from hospital they indicated that fortunately we sent the specimen before there were holes in the lung. It would take only about four months to cure the TB if I treated it correctly. I went to my friends in prison, Walter Sisulu and others, and told them that I was found to have the TB germ. There were long faces drawn. My friends objected to me sharing my personal affairs. But I consoled them and told them that the doctors and hospital staff knew about my status and I therefore had to reason to hide this information from those close to me. I underwent treatment and was completely cured after four months.

That was exactly the same with cancer of the prostate. I was diagnosed and informed and I informed my family about my status. I then called the press and briefed them too. Again after undergoing treatment and listening to the advice of my doctors I was completely cured. In both cases, I spoke about it openly because I knew that once people were aware of the effects, they would support me. The press admired me for declaring my status, and I'm convinced that the support of my family, friends, and the public in general contributed to my healing process.

The world has made defeating AIDS a top priority. This is a blessing. But TB remains ignored. Today we are calling on the world to recognize that we can't fight AIDS unless we do much more to fight TB as well. I thank you.