[…] It had been an enormous mistake to ignore the epidemic, made even worse by installing an AIDS denialist as his favored successor.
In 2003 Mandela began to speak out plainly and forcefully about AIDS. And he acted. He created a foundation to fight HIV/AIDS, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and began a fundraising campaign to support HIV prevention and public health efforts called 46664, his identification number when he was imprisoned by the apartheid government on Robben Island. For the rest of his life he urged people to talk about HIV/AIDS “to make it appear like a normal illness.” And he used his reputation to make HIV prevention and AIDS treatment an international issue. In his retirement, he put AIDS at the top of his personal agenda.
Mandela vigorously took on critics, speaking courageously about AIDS and the importance of using the best science and public health knowledge to defeat it. Our greatest ethical leaders like Mandela are never more instructive than when we learn not just from their triumphs, but also from how they recognize and respond to a mistake.
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