Alive, deceased, missing”: The heartbreaking form children have to fill in. Photo / Supplied
From a distance, it’s an average form like a million others. Black
and white, photocopied, the type of thing you might fill in if you were
renewing your insurance or applying for a rental apartment.
among the everyday information asked of the young people who fill out
the form are questions that, in a shockingly matter-of-fact way, reveal
the true tragedy of a community ravaged.
South Africa actress Charlize Theron says truth is the only way to battle AIDS. Photo / Getty Images
One question, on page two, simply asks if the teenage
applicant’s mother and father are “alive, dead or missing”. Another asks
the person to state if they have been sexually abused and provide the
dates and details.
Every young person who comes to the Whizzkids
United health academy in a rundown area outside of Pietermaritzburg – in
the heart of South Africa’s HIV epidemic – must fill in the sheet.
They ask because it happens.
this area, 41 per cent of the population have the still incurable virus
and rates among young women are the highest in the world. It’s all too
common for mothers to die from AIDS, sometimes when their kids are still
too young to understand what’s happening.
“Many of the children
are orphans and find out years later the person they are calling ma is
actually their mother’s sisters because their mother died when they were
two,” says Nonhlanhla Madlala, a doctor at Whizzkids United.
man, she says, lost 80 per cent of his family to HIV. “You actually get
pleasantly surprised when you find young people with both parents
The centre is just up the road from Durban where,
this week, thousands of scientists, politicians and even the odd
celebrity – including Prince Harry and Hollywood star Charlize Theron –
have been gathering for the AIDS 2016 conference.
Rape is so common in South Africa, it’s included on an application form. Photo / Supplied
The 18,000 delegates in attendance have heard treatments to
suppress HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, are effective. Of the 37
million people living with the condition only 17 million are on
medication. Rich nations, who help pay for treatment and support
programs in developing countries, have been criticised for backing, but
not fully funding, a plan to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
to news.com.au in Pietermaritzburg, South African born Theron, said the
world’s response wasn’t good enough. “There’s a huge part of me that is
incredibly angry that after 30 years we’re still in the place we are
“AIDS is completely preventable but we are so late to the game and it’s frustrating.”
movie’s star outreach project helps fund seven programs in South Africa
focusing on HIV including Whizzkids United. Founded in 2000 by two
British nurses, the service, which also receives funding from the local
health department, provides HIV prevention, care, treatment and support
programs to young people while using soccer to teach them about life
Twenty-one year old Ntethelelo Neobese is a regular at
Whizzkids. He told news.com.au that many teenagers in the area, wracked
with poverty, learn the wrong kind of life skills.
“A young girl, who is 15, her mother passed away with AIDS and she never knew her father,” he says.
had to drop out at school because she needed to find a way to support
her family financially but she couldn’t find a job because the
opportunities are so poor.
“She met an older man who bought her clothes, a new phone and food.”
Ntethelelo’s friend fell pregnant to the older man and found out she was HIV positive.
she went back to her place, he doesn’t want her any more, he made her
leave so she was traumatised and came to Whizzkids to get help.”
There are multiple hurdles in halting the spread of HIV in young people in South Africa.
is the social stigma that surrounds the virus because it can be
transmitted during sex, but it can also pass from mother to child
through the womb or breast milk. However, if people are on HIV
medication the risk of transmitting the virus is virtually nil.
Duma, who is 18, says he has seen this stigma first hand. “If there is a
kid with HIV in school, they don’t sit near her and they don’t want to
do anything like eat next to her since they found out.”
you stick to HIV treatment, which has to be taken daily, forever, is
another challenge. As is an almost complete lack of basic knowledge
handed down by parents and teachers about sex and staying safe.
Madlala says there is a perception in many families that teaching about
sex was giving permission to have sex. “So parents say ‘stay away from
boys’ and as soon as you tell teenagers not to do something they’ll try
and do it.”
Theron recalls a sex education class she sat in on at
one of the programs her project supports. “We were all sitting together
talking about simple stuff like how do you put on a condom and we asked
if there were any questions. Nobody asked.
“The idea of raising your hand in front of your peers was just something that was never heard of.”
mother of two adopted children, Theron said families had to step up.
“As a parent, ultimately honesty is the only way to go about it.
is nothing polite and nice about AIDS so the fact we’re treating our
children so politely and so nicely is problematic,” she tells
news.com.au. “It will kill you and like anything else that will kill
your children will you not sit them down and tell them the truth about
But by talking directly to young people, she says, you can
see them gaining in confidence and HIV street smarts – vital tools in
Twenty-one-year old Slindile Memela, who goes to
Whizzkids and is aiming for a career is sports management, is upbeat
about changing the course of HIV.
“If we stand up and tell them
what HIV is about and how to prevent it maybe they will have the mindset
which is ‘I will try this’. If the young people are willing to help
this, why not take a chance?”
If Slindile succeeds, no one may have to fill in the heartbreaking form again.