June 20, 2016

The AIDS Quilt Project: A Celebration of South Africans

Written by AIDS 2016

This post originally appeared on the AIDS 2016 blog. Reposted with permission.

Around 4.2 million people were living with HIV in South Africa at the end of 2000 – making South Africa the country with the largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS in the world. At the time, widespread stigma and discrimination compromised the AIDS response in the country – with essential antiretroviral (ARV) treatment unavailable. The 13th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2000) played an important role in showing the devastating impact of HIV in South Africa to a world still struggling to grasp and respond to the scope of the epidemic.

This year, the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) will return to South Africa; and South Africa will have a very different story to tell. The country has a turbulent HIV and AIDS past, but we have broken the silence since AIDS 2000 and truly turned the tide on HIV and AIDS. Today, South Africa has reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 2% and the average life expectancy of South African’s continues to steadily improve – all as a direct result of the country’s ARV programme, the largest in the world. AIDS 2016 will provide an historic and powerful opportunity to share the journey of South Africa’s community living with and affected by HIV on a global stage; their stories deserve to be told.

To tell these stories, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) has created the AIDS Quilt Project. Inspired by the Memorial Quilts, which were 300 three by six foot panels of cloth commemorating the life of someone who has died of AIDS displayed at AIDS 2000, SANAC’s Quilt Project will display new story panels at AIDS 2016. Tapping into South Africa’s rich creative culture, the Quilt Project will visually tell the stories of people living with or affected by HIV across the country.

The AIDS Quilt Project is more than simply using art as a creative outlet; every quilt shows a personal story of a South African living with or affected by HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis. The quilt speaks in a way that words cannot fully express – representing many South Africans, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexual orientation. The Project gives a human face to the epidemic, giving valuable insight into the people behind the statistic and the communities on the frontlines of the response.

This is an opportunity for all South Africans to share personal stories that represent their journey. To get involved contact us at quilts@sanac.org.za.