Reflections from an advocate, Angelina Namiba, on a week at the International AIDS Conference
My first impressions? Everything is BIG! The City, the roads, the conference, the venue… even the food portions are large.
I’ve mainly engaged as an advocate and presenter. I sat on a panel looking at Turning the Tide in the care of women living with HIV. I co-presented with Edwin Bernard of the HIV Justice Network on The impact of criminalisation on the lives of people living with HIV. I co- facilitated a workshop on enabling patients to get the most from their doctor patient relationship. Finally, I presented on the sexual reproductive health and rights of people living with HIV.
A highlight of the conference for me was a meeting with Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS. I spoke alongside 20 other HIV positive women advocates, raising four main issues:
First, we spoke to him about the need to ensure that women living with HIV are involved in UNAIDS campaigns – and that this participation should be funded. Michel assured us this would happen.
Second, we identified the need for UNAIDS to develop thematic reports on issues that HIV positive women feel are important – and that these should feed in to wider UNAIDS reporting. We agreed to sit on the editorial team overseeing this.
Thirdly, we expressed our concern about the possible closure of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. We argued it should continue, with changes, and women living with HIV should be engaged in shaping those changes. Michel proposed we take part in a retreat on this theme.
The final question we asked Michel was around how we are going to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality issues are at the centre of UNAIDS’ Strategic Investment Framework. Michel agreed the importance of ensuring gender is one of the critical enablers – and not just a development synergy. He promised is that gender will be embedded in the UNAIDS Strategic Investment Framework.
I left the meeting feeling pretty reassured that he will make good on his promises.
One session I cherished, amidst the melange of sessions, was focused on support for young people transitioning from childhood in to adolescence. This is another passion of mine and I was lucky to listen to three dynamic young people talking about their lives living with HIV. They made a number of key points and recommendations which providers need to follow up on. Most importantly came the message: Young people do not fail treatment: Services fail young people. Young people need youth friendly services which include peer mentors who have been through the transitioning process. One of the young people, Mohammed Barry, made a particular impression on me when he challenged the well-dressed audience, to put themselves in the shoes of a child in Zimbabwe who needs ARVs.
I feel relatively happy with what I managed to achieve on a personal level and though my advocacy. However, after more than five days of hard slog, I leave the conference with a question: do conferences like these really change things?