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Professor Linda-Gail Bekker has dedicated her life to curbing HIV infection rates in impoverished communities across South Africa — and now, she’s been recognised as a human rights champion.

Bekker, a professor of medicine at the University of Cape Town, has been awarded the 2018 Desmond Tutu Award for HIV Prevention Research and Human Rights. 

The award — named in honour of archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key global advocate for HIV prevention — is presented just once every two years, and goes to a person or organisation who works to prevent HIV and for the human rights of people impacted by it. 

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Bekker received the award in honour of her commitment to the work she has been doing for the community of Masiphumelele and New Crossroads, both in Cape Town, where she has several clinics. 

“Linda-Gail Bekker is a tireless and innovative leader of efforts to ensure effective HIV prevention for all,” said Mike Chirenje, co-chair of the HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P). “From her clinics in the impoverished Masiphumelele and New Crossroads townships of Cape Town, to her role as chief operating officer of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation and in her capacity as immediate past president of the International AIDS Society,” Chirenje said.

Bekker’s fearless advocacy and personalised models of care have saved lives and helped to break down barriers of stigma and discrimination in HIV prevention, he said. 

In her work, Bekker specifically focuses her efforts in supporting more vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, adolescents, and populations that are more difficult to reach and engage, according to the University of Cape Town (UCT). 

“Professor Bekker embodies a physician-scientist who uses their expertise to better the lives of others. Her work is not only relevant to South Africa, but globally,” said the university. 

Bekker works through the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, based at UCT. Since it was launched by Bekker and her colleague Professor Robin Wood in 2004, the foundation has been supporting HIV/AIDS medical students and researchers, while also helping save the lives of people living in some of the country’s most impoverished communities. 

The foundation has become well-known for its research work, as well as its community outreach — including teaching communities about HIV, treatment, and related infections, as well as the training of health workers. 

“The research, clinical and community outreach staff of the foundation share a common agreed purpose to lessen the impact of the HIV epidemic on individuals, families and communities, through innovation and their passion for humanity,” said the foundation.

And the foundation has even earned the support of the archbishop and his wife, Leah Tutu.

Like much of South Africa — which has an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 12.6% — the Western cape also faces significant challenges in dealing with the disease, especially among young people. 

In fact, according to the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), HIV prevalence among young people in the province had remained unchanged in the 20 years up to 2015. 

One of the programmes used by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation to help tackle the issue, is the rainbow-coloured Tutu Tester truck

The emphasis of the programme is to create a fleet of mobile testing facilities, where people can find out more about their health as well as getting educated, even if their community is difficult to reach. 

The aim is to make it easier for people in places like Nyanga, for example, where levels of HIV are high, but access to treatment is limited. 

Now, the foundation’s team can bring essential healthcare services straight to the communities. 

The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.


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