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Winstone Zulu (1964-2011)


Winstone is Zambia's most prominent advocate/activist living with AIDS. A journalist by trade, his past achievements include a weekly column in the Zambian Post, which he penned while simultaneously running a daycare for children orphaned by AIDS and an employment counseling project in Western Zambia under the umbrella of Kara Counseling. Winstone has been celebrated worldwide for his public focus on the devastation of AIDS, and particularly on TB as a co-infection. He attended the Paris World AIDS conference in 1994; participated in the meeting in Como, Italy, where UNAIDS was formed in 1996; and served on numerous international working committees addressing the exploding AIDS epidemic. When they appeared together on a platform at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004 to give prominence to TB, Nelson Mandela said of Winstone, “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." Winstone received an award from WHO’s "Stop TB Partnership". He has had an audience with the Prime Minister of Japan, advocating to put AIDS and TB firmly on the agenda of next year's G8 meeting. 

Contact Winstone: winstonemwenda@yahoo.com

A video in which Winstone Zulu talks about the relationship between tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS can be viewed here.

An interview with Winstone Zulu about his work on AIDS, TB and disability

Q: Why is TB and AIDS an urgent issue?

A: HIV and TB is an urgent issue, especially in Africa, because the co-infection of the two diseases is massive. Although AIDS gets much of the attention and is the leading killer of adults in this region, TB is the leading of people living with HIV. Worldwide, a third of people with HIV also have TB.

Furthermore, there are many myths about the two diseases. For example, many people who would have been saved from dying because they were suffering from TB were left without being treated because friends and relatives felt there was no need to do anything since they were suffering from AIDS, which is an incurable condition. However, TB, even in persons with HIV is curable. I, myself, had been living with HIV for over six years when I was diagnosed with TB, and I was successfully cured of the latter. There is also a belief that TB drugs make the disease worse. It is not uncommon to find many people rejecting treatment in the belief that the drugs would kill them. When the disease gets worse and they finally decide to start treatment, it is too late and often they die. That reinforces the belief in the community that TB drugs cause death. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Q: How did you come to this work?
A: I was first introduced to TB when I had to stand in for Simon Mulenga, a colleague who had passed on about three months previously before the start of the American Lung Association conference held in Toronto, Canada, in 2000. He died from HIV-related TB. At that conference I leant a lot about the TB/HIV co-infection such as how TB takes advantage of the weakened immune system in persons with HIV to become an active disease.

Q: What’s the biggest thing that’s wrong?

A: At that time, I first made the connection between the deaths of my three brothers, Shadreck, Erasmus and Christopher as well as my own brush with TB in 1996. I also recalled that over 80% of the friends that founded Hope House—the cradle of people living with HIV in Zambia—who had passed on, died of TB. Many of them died, not because TB had become complicated because of their HIV status, but because TB treatment was not available at the time they needed it. I realized that the only reason why I was still alive and they were dead was because I had access to treatment and they did not. Learning that the amount needed to treat one case of TB in terms of drugs was only US $20 fired me up to include TB in my campaign against AIDS. 

Q: How do you spend your AIDS-Free World time?

A: I continue doing what I have done for years, as it fits perfectly into AIDS-Free World’s advocacy. I work with local groups to raise awareness about the connections among TB, AIDS, and also disability, and the inequities in the system with regard to treatment. I travel from time to time, so that I can help keep AIDS-Free World informed of the situation here in southern Africa, write about it, and make sure that we can make intelligent analyses and recommendations about what needs to change.