Return journey for MPhil student

09 February 2006
Helping hand: MPhil student Trude Holm Naimak from Tromsø.
Helping hand: MPhil student Trude Holm Naimak from Tromsø.

What were the chances that Trude Holm Naimak would travel from Tromsø, one of the most northerly cities in Norway, to one of the most southerly cities in Africa, only to find that her research into HIV/AIDS would take her back home to Tromsø for the concert of a lifetime.

The June 11 concert was none other than 46664 Arctic, with its most famous patron, Nelson Mandela. The fund-raiser featured a star-packed line-up: Annie Lennox , Robert Plant and The Strange, Brain May, Johnny Clegg, and Angelique Kidjo. A total of R12-million was raised to fight HIV/AIDS.

Bred in Tromsø, Naimak enrolled for development studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

In all her courses and reading, HIV was cited a major obstacle to development. It was an inspiring guest lecturer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Alan Whiteside, who turned her attentions to sub-Saharan Africa. In turn, this spotlighted the MPhil in HIV/AIDS and Society at UCT, an interdisciplinary programme that brings together experts from a cross-section of faculties and departments.

"It has both broadened and narrowed my knowledge. But you can't only sit in Europe and study AIDS," Naimak said.

She hopes to wrap up her thesis (it looks at why the roll out of antiretrovirals in the Western Cape has gone so well) by December and then look around at opportunities here. Her vacation work with the Global Fund in Geneva, which rallies resources and funds against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, will no doubt stand her in good stead.

When Naimak was home in November, the head of the 46664 Arctic concert phoned and asked her to work for them.

The concert posed some interesting logistics. Tromsø has a population of around 60 000. Some 20 000 people were expected at the event. Two weeks before the concert it poured, but on the day the venue dried up.

Naimak's role was to act as an advisor, educator and public relations spokesperson on HIV and AIDS. She is was particularly glad to have had the opportunity to educate young Norwegians about the disease. Around 0.1% of the population is HIV positive.

"It's in Eastern Europe and Russia that the explosion is taking place."

The vision of the 46664 Arctic is a generation free from HIV/AIDS by 2015.

It was hard work but fun, like pulling a big puzzle together, Naimak added.

Speaking at the concert, Mandela said: "We want to thank the people of Tromsø for the courage to recognise our common humanity and all that it entails. In recognition of this leadership we have made Tromsø the first ambassador city for 46664. Many years ago I said that my long walk has not yet ended. As we stand here tonight, I gain great comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone on this journey. In taking on this challenge you have become part of us and so you are now all Africans."

Naimak has only one regret: she did not get to the venue in time for a photo with the big man.

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