Why I Am an AIDS Activist
Hi, my name is Precious Jackson, and I am a Treatment Advocate here at Women Alive. I'm also an AIDS activist because I believe that it's our right as people living with HIV and AIDS to fight for our lives. And we have a responsibility to spread the word about AIDS awareness. I had the opportunity to attend an ATAC/CST Teach-In, which was a great learning experience for me.
ATAC (AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition) and CST (Coalition for Salvage Therapy) is a national coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates working together to end the AIDS epidemic by improving HIV research and treatment access. "We (ATAC) seek to encourage greater and more effective involvement of all people with HIV in the decisions that affect their lives by identifying, mentoring and empowering new treatment activists in all communities affected by the epidemic."
The ATAC/CST Teach-In was held on February 23 and 24, 2002 in Seattle, WA. I had the opportunity to be among the "who's who" of HIV activists. Many of them have been around since the epidemic started in the early '80s. The purpose of the Teach-In was to bring in new members and to mentor us into becoming activists. I was paired with my mentor, Yvette Delph [from TAG (Treatment Action Group)], the entire weekend.
Since I am already an activist myself, I decided that I would become a member of ATAC. As many of us know, being HIV positive and especially an HIV-positive woman, we definitely need to have our voices heard. We have to be activists. We have to advocate for our own health needs in order to ensure that we get the best medical care and that we have equal access to the newest and best medications that are available to prolong our lives.
On the first day, we learned what the purpose of becoming an activist was about. We talked about how to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. In some situations, for example when you may be trying to get sponsorship for your project it's better to use diplomacy. This way both parties will get what they want and need.
As an example, when a drug is in development the researchers must include women in their studies. Often times they do not include enough women to draw any meaningful conclusions that might help us to live longer. Many times they can't even give us answers about our issues, responding to our questions with the eternal answer of "we need to do more research." Part of our job as activists is to ensure that researchers, and pharmaceuticals do the "right thing." After all, our lives are in their hands. It must be stressed that any new drug is safe for women and not too toxic, and we can also help to ensure that the medicines are accessible and affordable for everyone.
In some cases the activists will have to scream and holler in order to get what we need and want. For example, when we are fighting for the greater good of everyone and we are demanding that prices be lowered so that poor people can have access to medications it might be best to take an "in your face" attitude and be demanding. We may need to get a lot of people together and hold a public demonstration bringing attention to our issues.
On the second day, the mentors and their protégés (the people they are mentoring) had a discussion with BMS (Bristol Meyers-Squibb), one of the companies that makes antiretroviral drugs (HIV meds). It was interesting to learn about the process of negotiating.
I am really glad that I had the chance to attend the Teach-In because I know, along with my fellow activists, that we can be the voice for many people. We can advocate to get the best medicines, diagnostics, vaccine and microbicide research, and access to better health care.
I would like to thank the members from ATAC/CST who worked so diligently to carry on the fight and I look forward to attending more Teach-Ins so that I may enhance and put my activism skills to good use.
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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.