Today is the 12th birthday of a brave little South African boy called Nkosi (pron: NE-KO-ZEE) Johnson. Nkosi won't be celebrating, though, because he lies in a coma, the life in his frail body slowly ebbing away--just one more victim of South Africa's rampant AIDS epidemic.
But as Allen Pizzey reports, this little boy's short life has had a massive impact on a terrible problem.
Not long ago, with a dignity far beyond his years, the tiny figure of Nkosi Johnson stood before a packed AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, and talked about himself and about losing his mother to AIDS.
He then attacked the South African government for failing to provide essential drugs to pregnant HIV-positive women that could stop them from passing the disease to their unborn child. As a result, Nkosi became the symbol of defiance and AIDS awareness that South Africa had desperately needed.
In a country where 10% of the population carries the AIDS virus and 200 more babies are born HIV-positive every day, Nkosi could have been just another statistic. But when he was abandoned by a mother who couldn't cope, Nkosi had a stroke of luck. He was found by Gail Johnson.
"When we first met Nkosi he was 9 months old and a very sick little boy," says Gail Johnson.
With love, optimism, and three meals a day, Nkosi miraculously survived, but always knew he was on borrowed time.
"But you've got it, and that's the reality. As this is a blue duvet, you've got AIDS," says Johnson, talking to Nkosi. "The sun comes up. Life does carry on."
When he registered for school as HIV-positive, the issue the South African government wanted to ignore burst into the open.
People approached Nkosi in the supermarket and told him that they had seen him on TV. To anyone who'd listen, he told them, "I'm on a special mission."
"What we want to do for other children is to stop them dying, to help them live a life," says Nkosi.
Nkosi's natural mother died 4 years ago. The little boy gradually grew sicker and more frightened, but he fought on, and celebrities flocked to his door.
Danny Glover paid a visit. Nkosi told him, "I'm not going to give up. I've got a lot of work to do for others."
When Nkosi finally slipped into a coma, former South African president Nelson Mandela saluted him as "an icon of the struggle for life."
His family said it was time for him to "join his mother." That time is not far off.
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