Danai Gurira is officially a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. The Black Panther star accepted the honor in a ceremony on Sunday during the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 event in South Africa. During her speech, she talked about what issues she would focus on—gender equality and women's rights—but also the importance of HIV awareness.
In the United States last week, President Donald Trump quietly cut funding for HIV research through a government-run study that was testing fetal tissue implanted into mice. The halt, made through the National Institutes of Health, is being considered by some in the scientific community as a setback in finding a cure for the disease.
“The issue is still quite dire,” Gurira told People. “We still see a high number of girls contracting the illness every day across the globe. It’s an urgent matter of our time and one that we can bring real change to once we get the awareness flowing again. To an extent, we have to re-engage the issue constantly.”
According to UNICEF, eastern and southern Africa are the epicenters of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with 48 percent of the world’s new HIV infections coming from these regions, which include Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The sexually transmitted disease disproportionately affects women who make 70 percent of the 2.7 million 15–24 year-olds living with HIV in these regions.
Gurira, who hails from Zimbabwe, hopes to combat the spread of the disease through advocacy work. She partnered with Johnson & Johnson for their Make HIV History initiative, which is testing a preventative HIV vaccine in five southern African countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, with women ages 18-35—the most at-risk group.
“I grew up around a developing country grappling with the onslaught of HIV-AIDS,” says Gurira, who wrote and starred in a play about two women grappling with HIV called Continuum. “Women were grappling for the rights to be able to own land, the rights to be able to inherit land, the right to be able to have a bank account. I have a purpose, and it’s based on how I was born into this world. I focus on my life’s work.
"That’s what everyone has to do, is, What are we called into this world to do with the time we have here? I pursue my truth, and I pursue what I’m authentically passionate about. And that is my job.”