JACKSONVILLE, Alabama – Academy Award-winning actress and UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron has an impressive track record when it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa.
In 2007, she started the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) to help African youth stay safe from HIV/AIDS through offering grants to support locally engaged organizations, networking, and spotlighting successful work.
Although the scope of CTAOP is Sub-Saharan Africa, the primary focus is on Theron’s home country of South Africa, which has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.
The organization has helped over 200,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa to date, but the group’s website acknowledges there is still a long way to go.
“Of the 35 million people living with HIV, an estimated 24 million are living [in Sub-Saharan Africa],” the site states. “Nearly one in every 20 adults is living with the virus in this region.”
South Africa is the country that carries the largest burden of the disease in the world, with an estimated 6.4 million HIV positive individuals. To give perspective, the country comprises one percent of the total world’s population, but 18 percent of the HIV positive population.
Also troubling is the increase in teen HIV-related deaths over a span of time that has seen a 30 percent decrease in HIV-related mortality. Since 2008, adolescent deaths due to HIV have increased 50 percent and 90 percent of the world’s HIV-related deaths in teens occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To help address this problem, CTAOP provides grants to organizations that work with local youth. “We strive to develop collaborative, long-term relationships with grantees built on mutual trust and respect,” the CTAOP website states. “In this manner, both CTAOP and our grantees can evolve together to increase each community’s capacity to prevent HIV. Lessons from the ground help inform CTAOP’s advocacy efforts at the policy level with groups like The Global Fund, UNAIDS, and the South African government, ensuring that policy remains connected to realities.”
Before starting CTAOP, Theron engaged in other forms of social outreach. In 1999, she participated in a media advertisement with Cape Town-based Trauma Centre, a rape crisis center that works to raise awareness of sexual crimes victimizing South African women.
Theron’s non-paid visual role however ignited a storm of controversy, when a group of male viewers complained to Advertising Standards Authority for the ad’s implication that all South African men bearing the responsibility of rape.
The backlash eventually ceased further broadcasting of the televised commercial; with the regulatory board enacting a ban due to discrimination against the male gender. Nevertheless, spokespeople stood by the infomercial, arguing that, “rape is an epidemic in South Africa because so few men take it seriously.”
In 2007, she started CTAOP and in 2008 Oprah Winfrey requested Theron be a guest on her show to promote the foundation. Thereafter, both Theron and Winfrey collaborated to supply funding support for fellow initiative Mpilonhle, a South African-based mobile unit operating to educate adolescents of HIV/AIDS dangers.
Later that year Theron’s philanthropic work earned her recognition as “Messenger of Peace” by the United Nations (UN).
Thereafter, Theron organized a number of Hollywood fundraisers for CTAOP and also raised money to promote greater awareness of HIV as well as to build soccer fields for kids and provide clean water to people in need.
All this work eventually led to an April 2013 trip to Washington D.C. to discuss the worldwide effort to end HIV/AIDS with United States congressional leaders. Theron continues to advocate on behalf of eradicating HIV today.
Sources: Access Hollywood, Conscious, CSMonitor, Ecorazzi, Entertainment Industry Foundation, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg, Milken Institute, People 1, People 2, SAPeople, Telegraph, UN News Centre, UNAIDS, USA Today, Variety
Photo: Movie Pilot