Over a few days in early March, 2003, dozens of flights touched down in Cape Town, South Africa unloading AIDS activists from around the world. Nearly 125 participants from 67 countries came to attend the International Treatment Preparedness Summit, an event "organized by an ad-hoc coalition of treatment activists from around the globe" and sponsored by over a dozen donor organizations.
They were joined by representatives from these donor organizations as well as by volunteers and local organizers with the main aim of establishing organizations and movements for increasing treatment access where none exist, and strengthening those that already exist.
The key method for doing this was by addressing the issue of treatment education -- how individuals and institutions can understand HIV and AIDS treatments better -- which will then hopefully lead to treatment advocacy -- how we can better fight for and obtain access to treatments for HIV and AIDS which include, in addition to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), treatment and prophylaxis for opportunistic infections (OIs), substitution therapy for drug users, monitoring and diagnostic tools, and the basic health infrastructure to deliver them.
Our host organization, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), provided inspiration for many as participants spoke with Zackie Achmat and other TAC members. Their model of feisty, inspired, and practical organizing certainly has elements that can be replicated in other locations. TAC asked for global support in April for their civil disobedience campaign against their government's inaction in dealing with HIV and AIDS.
Listening to the activists at the conference, what I heard was that people and organizations need basic capacity-building and training. In order to build any treatment access movement, we need to work to strengthen our individual parts: find ways for community-based organizations and groups to keep operating, to keep their activists alive, to make the principle of Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS (GIPA) a reality, to build advocacy-skills and more.
I continue to be amazed at the energy and passion felt by community activists about the Global Fund. It is clear that the community feels ownership of the Fund and wants to ensure that it meets the needs of those whom it was set up to serve. Key discussions included how to ensure strong community participation in County Coordinating Mechanisms and how to write proposals that include strong treatment components. At the same time, I hope that activists around the world view the Fund as part of a solution, rather than the whole solution. Some national governments can afford to put more resources into responding to AIDS; the existence of a Global Fund should not be an excuse for them to not do so. Debt relief could be another way for funds to be freed up for treatment access.
There are currently follow-up regional meetings planned for most regions. An Eastern and Central European meeting in Belarus will take place in upcoming months as well as a Latin American and Caribbean meeting. The African participants met the day after the summit to further develop their African Treatment Action Movement. It is Asia with its differences in local situation and languages that makes follow-up meetings more difficult, but there will be possibilities for treatment advocacy at various Asian meetings. The success of regional meetings to carry forward an agenda could be the most important marker of success for this summit.
All in all the summit was a great success, and the more so for how quickly it was put together. An incredible group of volunteers worked hard to bring the event to fruition, and already, days after the end of the conference, work is continuing and e-mails are flying around the globe.
Our friends, colleagues, and brothers and sisters from around the world are dying senselessly, but we are doing something about it. We are working with urgency and commitment and the summit was a best-case example of this.
Andy Quan is affiliated with the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations (AFAO) and the Asia-Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organizations (APCASO).
Back to the GMHC Treatment Issues April 2003 contents page.