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Acting Up for Ebola: International HIV Activists Launch Solidarity Call

October 23, 2014

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Immigrant Scapegoating in the U.S.

For now, she is watching immigrants get scapegoated over Ebola. Citing one example, Nichols said a major university and longtime ASC partner had just refused to accept more blood specimens from her agency clients until further notice. "That's with us doing screening and all the precautions," she stressed, incredulous. "It's unbelievable."

"People do know how Ebola is spread, but the general public doesn't know," states Eric Sawyer, a longtime HIV survivor now with UNAIDS. "There is massive hysteria. One of the first things we did was to de-stigmatize illness by massive education campaigns; that is really needed."

He and others support sane health precautions, but are critical of broad quarantine and airport screenings as ineffective and risk driving Ebola further underground. "I think medical isolation is necessary for people who are infected and ill, and the people caring for them need to be educated. But to see airline employees and janitors picketing, saying they aren't getting the kind of HAZMAT suits and gloves they need seems to be hysteria gone awry. If folks were educated about the risks, and pilots and crews properly trained, janitors wouldn't have to worry about Ebola getting onto a plane."

Gender Dimensions

Activists stress the need to focus on the gender dimensions of HIV, given that women are carrying the burden of the Ebola epidemic, both as patients and caretakers, and as mothers. "We should be giving a damn about what is happening in West Africa," says Tyler Crone, coordinator of the ATHENA women's HIV advocacy coalition. "How do we make it a feminist priority, a women's priority ... so we don't lose sight of where the disproportionate burden of Ebola is falling? I think we need to be going to the new Ebola Czar and saying, 'Here are the lessons of the HIV movement, and how it affects women.'"

Engagement, Indignity and "Shared Righteousness"

One group deserving urgent attention is Ebola survivors who are protected from Ebola now and can be educated, trained and equipped to become local caretakers for sick patients. That's a lesson from AIDS, with its movement focus on positive living with HIV, learning from survivors, buddy support, and patient rights.

The AIDS movement's strong focus on research and ethics is also useful, especially as clinical trials involving experimental Ebola treatment and vaccines advance. "One important lesson from the global AIDS activist movement is the community engagement process during clinical trial design and implementation," says Ukpong. She says that African leaders also need to step up -- and fast. "The national governments of affected countries have to own and lead the process of EVD treatment and prevention. For me, this is critical as the current drug and vaccines developers are all in the north."

"We need to talk about the research on Ebola before it's done," agrees Emily Bass of AVAC, who says reactions to Ebola are "like AIDS on warp speed." She views industry as a key advocacy target, given the perceived lack of profit in an Ebola vaccine. "What's it going to take to develop an Ebola vaccine? What's the science? Who's going to provide advance purchase guarantees? We need to rapidly assess all of this."

AIDS provides infrastructure, resources and funds that could be tapped by integrating Ebola into existing HIV programs. Nigeria fought Ebola by using the structure for national polio eradication. Ukpong views the global HIV PEPFAR programs that also fund malaria and TB programs as stepping stones, alongside polio, to fast-track resources and mobilize communities to fight Ebola.

Summing up the ACT UP call to action, Crone says, "We in the HIV movement really have something to offer. I feel the Art of Solidarity, and speaking up, of civil disobedience -- it's all that. The art of how to have indignity and shared righteousness, where we come together across movements. It's already late, but now's the time. Everybody needs to hear this message."

Anne-christine d'Adesky is a global health journalist, activist, and author of "Moving Mountains: The Race to Treat Global AIDS" (2006), and "Beyond Shock: Charting the Landscape of Sexual Violence in Post-Quake Haiti" (2012). She is Global Coordinator for Haiti for the One Billion Rising campaign to end sexual violence.

Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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