Treatment Action Group Mourns the Loss of Pioneering AIDS and TB Activist Winstone Zulu (1964-2011)
12 October 2011
“Winstone Zulu, the first individual in Zambia to publicly acknowledge his HIV status died this morning 12th October 2011 at University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka. Winstone Zulu was born in 1964 in Lusaka, Zambia, the sixth of thirteen children. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1990, he became the first individual in Zambia to publicly acknowledge his HIV status. In 1997, he contracted TB and, with access to effective medicines and treatment, was cured of the disease [TB] within that same year.”
“We were good friends back in the 1990s when he was less of an international superstar but still an amazing leader in the early fight against discrimination. He was an early participant in the ZAMBART INH [isoniazid] preventive therapy trial. In addition to participating himself, he was active in encouraging many of the PALS (the positive and living squad, the first HIV positive support group in Zambia, which prided itself on being Positive at a time when all the talk was always highly negative) to join the trial – so I believe that he was one of the first advocates for HIV-relevant TB research.”
– Peter Godfrey-Faussett, ZAMBART/London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene
Not only was Winstone Zulu a hero in the fight against AIDS, but he was also a pioneer in bringing AIDS activism to the hitherto barren and civil society free zone of tuberculosis prevention, treatment, and care.
Winstone attended his first Union TB conference in Paris in 1994, so he was already a TB veteran when for the first time other activists attended the 33rd Union meeting in Montreal, Quebec, in October 2002. This was a small gathering of an activist vanguard who realized the huge challenge which TB was imposing on people with HIV. As always, Winstone was eloquent in his description of the realities of living with HIV in a place with a fragmented health system which made survival even more of a struggle.
To give you a sense of the surreal divorce from reality which characterized the TB programs of the world in 2002 it will suffice simply to record that the then South African TB program manager stated that the South African AIDS activists were all on antiretrovirals, so they didn't care about TB. (Neither was true -- not a single South African had yet received ART in the public sector in 2002; whereas the South African activists included TB literacy at all the treatment literacy workshops going back to 2000).
Winstone continued to speak bravely and with a calm passion throughout the years that followed. At Bangkok in 2004 he was inspired by meeting Nelson Mandela at a press conference where he and Mandela shared the stage; and Mandela said "We can't fight AIDS unless we do much more to fight TB as well."
Winstone spent the years traveling all over the world, speaking with activists, media, and politicians about the struggle of living with HIV and fighting the constant threat of TB. His unending travels and activism certainly took a toll on his health. In 2006 he was awarded the Kochon Prize from the Stop TB Partnership for his TB activism.
Winstone Zulu worked tirelessly to change the world, at no small cost to his own health and wellbeing. His legacy is a stronger link between HIV and TB activists, but his inimitable calm and passionate voice of reason will be deeply missed.