AHPN at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa
The international AIDS Conference was held in Durban 16 years after Nelson Mandela delivered his historical speech on the stigma associated with AIDS. “This is the one event”, Mandela said, “where every word uttered, every gesture made, has to be measured against the effect it can have on the lives of millions of real human beings all over this continent and planet.”
The theme of the conference was Access Equity Rights Now. The theme resonated in many of the opening briefs given by guests such as UN Secetary General Ban-Ki Moon, South African Deputy Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa and Michele Sidibe of UNAIDS. Much of the day was occupied by prevention in women and girls.
The activities of the second day of the event covered topics such as women and girls, stigma and new ways of prevention.
The highlight of the day was the session titled “What a Girl Wants”. This session aimed to improve understanding on HIV prevention tools, as well as looking at what type of information young girls want and need. Sessions on looking at strategies on how to ensure treatment and prevention kept on moving forward in times natural disasters, humanitarian emergencies and decline in funding were also offered.
The main topic of discussion on for day three was accountability and achieving targets. Speaker Anton Pozniak urged the audience to step up the fight against TB and hepatitis C, two major killers of people living with HIV.
The growing concerns about unsafe drug injection in Africa were also addressed. Clear policy on HIV caused by unsafe injection needed to be implemented. Research on HIV among gay and bisexual African-American men showed that diagnosis increased by 87% from 2005-2014. In a special session, Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that creativity and innovation is need if we are to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS.
Day four looked at the plight of men living with HIV. Research showed that men are not only less likely to seek treatment, but also face 37% greater likelihood of death from the disease than women.
Prince Harry and Sir Elton John were present at the event. Prince Harry praised to numerous South African HIV/AIDS activist organisations for their work to overcome HIV stigma. Sir Elton John reminded the audience of the impact that young people Nkosi Johnson, whose speech in 2000 helped initiate a new approach to ART access, can have on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is faced by many Africans or people of African descent in the UK. The AHPN believes that by interacting with people affected with the disease, we can gain greater understanding of the HIV/AIDS and help improve the health and well-being of those in need.
Here are some pictures from the conference:
Deryck Browne of AHPN with Dee (Dambudzo Mashoko) from International Community of Women Living with HIV based in Harare. Dee had hitch hiked her way to the Durban conference as she was adamant that her organisation which works to secure the rights of women living with HIV and LGBTq women in Zimbabwe should have a voice. AHPN made a donation of £50 to ensure that Dee could return home by public transport.
This session was a breakfast forum organised by the Global Network of Black People Working in HIV, of which AHPN is a member. This session discussed the work that still needs to be done to reduce the burden of HIV on people of Africa and the diaspora. Strategies for collaboration and 'synergy' were also examined. Notably US Congresswoman Barbara Lee posited the view that if we are to realise an AIDS free generation by 2030 then African descent people would have to be the ones who make that happen. In the US PEPFAR was essentially an idea which had come from the Congressional Black Caucus before being taken up by then President Bush; so there is every need for Black people and organisations to mobilise and organise.
The Durban conference was notable for its representation of activism the world over. The Global Village was a manifestation of this with hundreds of international stalls, groups and events and demonstrations. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects held one such demonstration (fittingly with Umbrellas under the Durban sun) calling for the decriminalisation of sex work and the calling for sex workers to be afforded human rights and protection under the law.