SA-born physician reaches out to HIV-stricken youth

Cape Town medical school graduate organizes charity event to 'give something back' to her native land.

kenya refugee 88 (photo credit: )
kenya refugee 88
(photo credit: )
A South African-born family physician in Givatayim is organizing a charity event next week to help build a cultural center for young HIV victims in the poor South African township of Masiphumelele. Dr. Gail Loon-Lustig, who immigrated here soon after graduating in 1975 from the University of Cape Town's medical school, said many from her graduating class "have done very well and want to give something back." Loon-Lustig, who works for Maccabi Health Services and promotes public health, is coordinating fund-raising events by fellow medical school graduates. Around half of her 150-student graduating class left South Africa for other countries. She is the only one of her class to settle and remain in Israel, although about half of the class emigrated from their native country. The South African Embassy in Israel, in collaboration with the Jerusalem AIDS Project (JAIP) and Loon-Lustig, is preparing a first-time event to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa and funds for the cultural center. The event will be a screening of the Berlin festival Golden Bear award winning movie U-Carmen eKhayalitsha at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Monday, May 28. The auditorium has 350 seats, and the tickets will be sold for NIS 100 apiece. They will be available there the night of the event, or can be ordered in advance from Loon-Lustig at 054-7606278. South African Ambassador Fumanekile Gqiba will attend the event. "The fight against the devastating AIDS epidemic could bring people together," he said. "This event signifies the need for a united effort against AIDS and could be a beginning of heightened relations between the people of Israel and the South Africa." "My class had a reunion in Cape Town, and we were appalled by the AIDS situation in the country, where an estimated one in nine people are HIV carriers, with a prevalence of 18.8% in the adult population," said Loon-Lustig. "One reported the situation in Masiphumelele - which means "I will succeed" - and said that one in four adolescents is an HIV carrier. We decided they should have a place to meet, learn about HIV, be encouraged to undergo medical checks, take the AIDS 'cocktail' of drugs and not infect others. I don't think Israelis know much about the HIV situation in South Africa, as even many South Africans don't. "The center will cost about $1 million, and the Desmond Tutu Foundation has promised to give $220,000. We are trying to raise the rest." Other former classmates abroad are organizing additional events, such as someone in England who will ride a bicycle from the north of England to the south to raise money. "As a medical graduate of the University of Cape Town and as a representative of my colleagues throughout the world, who have established this project, I am proud of the support of the South African Community who have been supportive in this regard," Dr Gail Loon-Lustig said. Even though she is working full time, Loon-Lustig would like to organize other events, such as a public auction of works by leading Israeli artists from South Africa.