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Young AIDS Victim Urges Condom Use


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

Nkosi, left orphaned at three after being left by his mother over fears of being ostracised for having an infected child, weighs just 27 lbs but 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.

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.

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.

Pretoria has prohibited the use of anti-AIDS drugs such as AZT on cost and safety grounds.

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 behaviour must be changed.

"I just want people to know to be careful...In South Africa I see more and more babies die everyday. 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 practise safe sex or even discuss sex openly are pinpointed by health experts as key factors in driving the AIDS epidemic across Africa.

Nkosi, who like any child loves to feed his cats and 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 spoke out and received cheers at the world's biggest AIDS conference in Durban in July to press Mbeki to allow AZT to be given to pregnant mothers.

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

The boy, 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 nation-wide 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 mobilised, I would like to see that against HIV/AIDS," she said.


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Information in this article was accurate in November 30, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.