It is Thursday July 26th, 2012. I am traveling back home to Peoria, Illinois after over a week in Washington, D.C., for the 2012 International AIDS Conference. I am sad to say that I did not even come CLOSE to doing, seeing, or learning all that I wanted to learn at AIDS 2012. That being said, I am full. Full of love for my fellow warriors, full of energy to battle my local community that continues to ignore the national movement and recognition that including those living with HIV strengthens their programs and gives them insight they would not otherwise have. And I am full of new information with which to drive points home when I am having conversations about HIV/AIDS. I am more armed with facts about the role of violence and trauma and the ways they intersect with HIV, I know more about the role and importance of drug users and sex workers in the conversation, and I know a lot more about condoms (doing a little inside cheer on that one!)!
One of the hottest topics of discussion at AIDS 2012 was that of HIV criminalization, both in the U.S. and internationally. Throughout the conference, there were multiple sessions, panels, and presentations on the topic -- which in turn led to a lot of discussion about it amongst the HIV+ participants of the conference.
As AIDS 2012 starts to draw to a close, I start to reflect back on my experiences this week and the one place of the conference which sticks out in my mind is the Global Village. It is an enormous space, filled with people, language, culture, and connection. It's the place where our communities come together and network with each other. It's where we connect; we recharge our emotional batteries, and learn together about how we are all fighting across the globe to bring about changes in this epidemic. The Global Village is a space filled with booths and exhibits and vendors from around the globe. There are also some stages where performances would be happening at all hours of the day by groups and artists from every corner of the world. It was truly an overwhelming experience to come down there for the first time during this conference and find that the whole world had converged upon one large room to share ideas and learn from one another.
After witnessing the devastating effects that HIV/AIDS had on their communities in Africa in the 1980s, and experiencing the multiple stresses that come with caring for someone on their deathbed, home-based caregivers recognized the need to combine their efforts, resources and expertise into a broader movement. They created the Home Based Care Alliance, which today represents over 31,000 volunteer caregivers in 11 African countries. The Alliance enables those groups that are already performing home-based care to gain recognition and self-representation at the local, national and international levels. Collectively, they are calling on their governments to recognize their crucial role in community development, to include them in policy design, to increase and redirect funding to the ground, and to establish an official role for home-based caregivers in international AIDS programs.
I came to D.C. totally prepared for the "We Can End AIDS" mobilization, I had my blue fabric to wave, my sensible shoes and even a water bottle. What I missed in the planning was a sense of how incredible and overwhelming it would truly be. My friend Teresa said "It took her breath away." and I still feel breathless, slightly disoriented but ready for what ever comes next.
I want to start with a quote from young man named Philip from the Philippine Islands:
A ray of hope in the war on women came on August 1, 2011, when the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) officially adopted the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) guidelines recommending that HIV testing and contraception options be included on the list of health and wellness services for women under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the health care reform bill. Most importantly, these services will not cost patients a cent! The recommendations are now law!
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