The key to my health is in my own pocket – Gcobisa shares her AIDS 2018 experience

Gcobisa Madlolo and Elmari Briedenhann, WitsRHI

“Amazing! I’ve met a lot of people from different countries and different cultures. From the first day that I received the call inviting me to the conference, I’ve been looking forward to today. Because today I got the opportunity to share my story, my experience.” These are the words of Gcobisa Madlolo, a young woman from South Africa, proud pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) user, and now a global ambassador. 

Gcobisa has great aspirations for the future. “The conference, and having the opportunity to share my story, has just reminded me again of how passionate I am about this cause. I want to be the face of PrEP, I want to go out there to every village, every town, every city and talk to other young people about the importance of protecting themselves. For me, I take PrEP because I cannot put the keys to my own health in someone else’s pocket – I want young women and men everywhere to realise that they have to take control of their health.”

Gcobisa is quick to tell us about the significant role her mother played in her decision to take PrEP and what her message is to all parents out there: “My mom has been an incredible part of my PrEP journey. She was the one who introduced me to it, bringing home a pamphlet explaining oral PrEP and encouraging me to find out more. I joined a study offering PrEP shortly after and my mom even helped to remind me to take my tablet every day in the beginning. My mom’s support has really empowered me and being here, at AIDS 2018, really made me realise how important it is to encourage other parents out there to be fully available to their kids, know them, and support them. Their support and love is what will make their children strong enough to take control of their lives and health.”

The EMPOWER study also provided an enormous amount of support, explains GcoGcobisabisa. “The counselling especially encouraged us to stay on PrEP and it was really good to talk to someone about gender-based violence. I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with other young women and talk about my experience in the study.”

And what about the rest of the conference and everything after that? “Attending the conference has been more than just learning new things and engaging with different people, it’s about realising that there are so many people that are working so hard, so many people so focussed on finding solutions to end HIV. This gives me hope, not just for me, but also for my children. I’m inspired to see that the conference has included so many young people, particularly young people under the age of 18 who are already becoming activists. Attending sessions that speak about the empowerment of women but also about interventions for the boy child is so encouraging because, as a mom of twins, a girl and a boy, I want a world that looks out for both of them, empowering both of them on equal ground.”

“Thanks Amsterdam for a great conference! I can’t wait to take everything I learned here back to South Africa and fly my PrEP flag!” 


Gcobisa Madlolo is a young woman and mother of twins living in inner-city Johannesburg, South Africa. She participates in a PrEP demonstration project with WitsRHI.

Elmari Briedenhann is a Senior Programme Manager in Knowledge Management and Communication at WitsRHI in Johannesburg, South Africa.