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The Nation with the World’s Heaviest Burden of HIV Continues to Innovate

Thabani Raymond Kalala, or “coach,” as he prefers to be called, was diagnosed with HIV six years ago. He lives in a small town in rural South Africa, but this year, as societies across the globe went into viral lockdowns, his world expanded. The 33-year-old community development worker was part of a pilot project called Coach Mpilo — the word means “life,” or “health” in isiZulu. As a “coach,” he works with 54 newly diagnosed men and boys, supporting their battle against HIV and boosting them, in ways big and small. The launch of the project, earlier this year, coincided with the beginning of global shutdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus. However, he says, that hasn’t slowed down progress.  This small initiative is one of the ways that, 40 years after the emergence of AIDS, the nation with the world’s heaviest burden of HIV continues to innovate. The coaching program will soon be fully funded, for about $1 million a year, from the $90-billion U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Those funds, which cover about 4,000 “players” and 50-plus coaches across South Africa, go a long way. Organizers say the results have been astonishing in terms of getting participants to stay on their medication.