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TEDGlobal 2010

Annie Lennox: Why I am an HIV/AIDS activist

July 15, 2010

For the last eight years, pop singer Annie Lennox has devoted the majority of her time to her SING campaign, raising awareness and money to combat HIV/AIDS. She shares the experiences that have inspired her, from working with Nelson Mandela to meeting a little African girl in a desperate situation.

Annie Lennox - Activist, singer-songwriter
The most successful female British pop musician in history, Annie Lennox has now committed herself to raising awareness of, and supporting actions against, the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm going to share with you the story
00:15
as to how I have become
00:18
an HIV/AIDS campaigner.
00:20
And this is the name of my campaign: SING Campaign.
00:23
In November of 2003,
00:27
I was invited to take part
00:29
in the launch of Nelson Mandela's
00:31
46664 Foundation --
00:33
that is his HIV/AIDS foundation.
00:36
And 46664 is the number
00:38
that Mandela had when he was imprisoned in Robben Island.
00:40
And that's me with Youssou N'Dour,
00:44
onstage, having the time of my life.
00:46
The next day, all the artists were invited
00:51
to join Mandela in Robben Island,
00:53
where he was going to give a conference
00:56
to the world's press,
00:58
standing in front of his former prison cell.
01:01
You can see the bars of the window there.
01:03
It was quite a momentous occasion for all of us.
01:06
In that moment in time,
01:09
Mandela told the world's press
01:11
that there was a virtual genocide
01:14
taking place in his country;
01:16
that post-apartheid
01:18
Rainbow Nation,
01:20
a thousand people were dying on a daily basis
01:22
and that the front line victims,
01:25
the most vulnerable of all,
01:27
were women and children.
01:29
This was a huge impact on my mind,
01:32
because I am a woman and I am a mother,
01:35
and I hadn't realized
01:38
that the HIV/AIDS pandemic
01:40
was directly affecting women in such a way.
01:42
And so I committed -- when I left South Africa,
01:45
when I left Capetown,
01:47
I told myself, "This is going to be something
01:49
that I have to talk about.
01:51
I have to serve."
01:53
And so, subsequently
01:55
I participated in every single
01:57
46664 event
01:59
that I could take part in
02:01
and gave news conferences,
02:03
interviews,
02:05
talking and using my platform as a musician,
02:07
with my commitment to Mandela --
02:10
out of respect for the tremendous,
02:12
unbelievable work that he had done.
02:15
Everyone in the world respects Nelson Mandela,
02:17
everyone reveres Nelson Mandela.
02:20
But do they all know
02:22
about what has been taking place in South Africa,
02:24
his country,
02:26
the country that had one of the highest incidents
02:29
of transmission of the virus?
02:31
I think that if I went out into the street now
02:33
and I told people what was happening there,
02:36
they would be shocked.
02:38
I was very, very fortunate a couple of years later
02:41
to have met Zackie Achmat,
02:44
the founder of Treatment Action Campaign,
02:46
an incredible campaigner and activist.
02:48
I met him at a 46664 event.
02:51
He was wearing a t-shirt like the one I wear now.
02:53
This is a tool --
02:55
this tells you I am in solidarity
02:57
with people who have HIV,
02:59
people who are living with HIV.
03:02
And in a way because of the stigma, by wearing this t-shirt
03:04
I say, "Yes, we can talk about this issue.
03:07
It doesn't have to be in the closet."
03:10
I became a member of Treatment Action Campaign
03:13
and I'm very proud to be a member
03:16
of that incredible organization.
03:18
It's a grassroots campaign
03:20
with 80 percent membership being women,
03:22
most of whom are HIV-positive.
03:25
They work in the field.
03:28
They have tremendous outreach
03:30
to the people who are living directly
03:33
with the effects of the virus.
03:35
They have education programs.
03:37
They bring out the issues of stigma.
03:40
It's quite extraordinary what they do.
03:43
And yes, my SING Campaign
03:46
has supported Treatment Action Campaign
03:48
in the way that I have tried to raise awareness
03:50
and to try to also raise funds.
03:53
A lot of the funding that I have managed to raise
03:55
has gone directly to Treatment Action Campaign
03:57
and the incredible work that they do,
03:59
and are still continuing to do in South Africa.
04:01
So this is my SING Campaign.
04:04
SING Campaign is basically just me
04:06
and about three or four wonderful people
04:08
who help to support me.
04:10
I've traveled all over the world
04:12
in the last two and a half years --
04:14
I went to about 12 different countries.
04:16
Here I am in Oslo in Norway,
04:18
getting a nice, fat check;
04:20
singing in Hong Kong, trying to get people to raise money.
04:23
In Johannesburg, I had the opportunity to play
04:26
to a mainly white, middle-class South African audience
04:29
who ended up in tears
04:31
because I use film clips
04:33
that really touch the heart, the whole nature,
04:35
of this terrible tragedy that is taking place,
04:37
that people are tending to avoid,
04:40
because they are fatigued,
04:42
and they really don't quite know what the solutions are.
04:44
Aaron Motsoaledi, the current health minister,
04:47
attended that concert
04:49
and I had an opportunity to meet with him,
04:51
and he gave his absolute commitment
04:53
to try to making a change,
04:55
which is absolutely necessary.
04:57
This is in the Scottish Parliament.
04:59
I've subsequently become an envoy
05:01
for Scotland and HIV.
05:03
And I was showing them my experiences
05:05
and trying to, again, raise awareness.
05:07
And once again, in Edinburgh
05:10
with the wonderful African Children's Choir who I simply adore.
05:12
And it's children like this, many of whom have been orphaned
05:15
because of their family being affected
05:18
by the AIDS virus.
05:21
I'm sitting here in New York with Michel Sidibe --
05:23
he's the director of UNAIDS.
05:26
And I'm very honored
05:28
by the fact that Michel invited me,
05:30
only a few months ago,
05:32
to become a UNAIDS ambassador.
05:34
And in this way, I've been strengthening my platform
05:36
and broadening my outreach.
05:39
The message that UNAIDS
05:41
are currently sending out to the world
05:43
is that we would like to see the virtual elimination
05:45
of the transmission of the virus
05:48
from mother to child by 2015.
05:50
It's a very ambitious goal
05:53
but we believe it can be achieved with political will.
05:55
This can happen.
05:58
And here I am with a pregnant woman,
06:00
who is HIV positive
06:02
and we're smiling, both of us are smiling, because we're very confident,
06:04
because we know that that young woman
06:07
is receiving treatment
06:10
so her life can be extended
06:12
to take care of the baby she's about to give birth to.
06:14
And her baby will receive PMTCT,
06:17
which will mean that that baby
06:20
can be born free of the virus.
06:22
Now that is prevention
06:24
at the very beginning of life.
06:26
It's one way to start looking at intervention
06:28
with the AIDS pandemic.
06:31
Now, I just would like to finish off
06:33
to tell you the little story
06:35
about Avelile.
06:37
This is Avelile --
06:39
she goes with me wherever I go.
06:41
I tell her story to everyone
06:43
because she represents
06:45
one of millions
06:47
of HIV/AIDS orphans.
06:49
Avelile's mother
06:51
had HIV virus --
06:53
she died
06:55
from AIDS-related illness.
06:57
Avelile had the virus,
06:59
she was born with the virus.
07:01
And here she is at seven years old,
07:03
weighing no more than a one year-old baby.
07:06
At this point in her life,
07:08
she's suffering with full-blown AIDS
07:10
and had pneumonia.
07:12
We met her in a hospital in the Eastern Cape
07:14
and spent a whole afternoon with her -- an adorable child.
07:17
The doctors and nurses were phenomenal.
07:20
They put her on very special nutritious diet
07:22
and took great care of her.
07:25
And we didn't know when we left the hospital --
07:28
because we filmed her story -- we didn't know if she was going to survive.
07:30
So, it was obviously -- it was a very emotional encounter
07:33
and left us feeling very resonant
07:36
with this direct experience, this one child,
07:38
you know, that story.
07:41
Five months later,
07:43
we went back to South Africa
07:46
to meet Avelile again.
07:48
And I'm getting --
07:51
the hairs on my -- I don't know if you can see the hairs on my arms.
07:53
They're standing up because I know what I'm going to show you.
07:55
This is the transformation that took place.
07:58
Isn't it extraordinary?
08:03
(Applause)
08:05
That round of applause is actually
08:15
for the doctors and nurses of the hospital who took care of Avelile.
08:17
And I take it that you appreciate that kind of transformation.
08:20
So, I would like to say to you,
08:24
each one in the audience,
08:26
if you feel that every mother
08:28
and every child in the world
08:31
has the right to have access
08:33
to good nutrition and good medical care,
08:35
and you believe that the Millennium Development Goals,
08:38
specifically five and six,
08:41
should be absolutely committed to
08:43
by all governments around the world --
08:46
especially in sub-Saharan Africa --
08:48
could you please stand up.
08:50
I think that's fair to say,
08:58
it's almost everyone in the hall.
09:00
Thank you very much.
09:03
(Applause)
09:05

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Annie Lennox - Activist, singer-songwriter
The most successful female British pop musician in history, Annie Lennox has now committed herself to raising awareness of, and supporting actions against, the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.

Why you should listen

After decades of global fame as part of Eurythmics and as a solo artist, Annie Lennox was moved by Nelson Mandela's call to stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa, where it disproportionately affects women and children. She founded the SING campaign in 2007 to raise both awareness and money. "This is an illness that has a lot of stigma," Lennox says on her video blog. "What we need to do is normalize HIV."

Drawing on her talents, she combines music and film to put a human face on the crisis and emotionally connect people to the cause. South Africa has a tradition of activist songs and singing; inspired by this, in spring 2007 Lennox invited 23 female artists to record the benefit single "Sing." The record incorporates the South African activist song "Jikelele," which means "global treatment." So far, sales of "Sing" have raised 100,000 pounds, while other appearances since then have multiplied that sum. SING's money goes to support efforts such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which works to fight mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Lennox is active in many other causes, both personal and political; in 2008 she was awarded the Services to Humanity Award by the British Red Cross.

The original video is available on TED.com
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