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Overseas and Overwhelmed
Report from the 12th World AIDS Conference

By Mary Lucey

Fall 1998

In the past ten years of my involvement in the AIDS Epidemic, I have attended two International AIDS Conferences, the first being two years ago in Vancouver. I didn't prepare or plan to go to Geneva until the month before I left. With a generous offer from AmFar and Medi-solutions, I was invited to attend the conference and participate in a 5 US city live satellite forum about information from the conference.

I had accommodations about 2 hours away from the Conference. I was anxious for the opening session to start since I wasn't able to participate in any of the community forums before hand. The Convention Center was the biggest facility I had ever seen. I arrived early to look for people I hadn't seen since the last conference in Vancouver. I hooked up with my friend from East Germany and headed for the upper deck of the Convention Center to get a good view of the opening ceremony. I had been very impressed with Vancouver's opening two years before. There, a woman PWA (in her 60's) opened the conference with a very inspiring and eye-opening story. I was hoping that the Geneva opening would be just as spectacular. It was not. It started off with a video tape of a tour of Geneva and then the sympathetic bureaucrats took their turns at the microphones Then the Swiss dancers kicked-off the opening of the 12th World AIDS Conference.


Gap Hell

The Conference structure was designed to have a third world report in every session in order to bring attention to the disparities between countries. I kept thinking about the theme "Bridging The Gap" and saying to myself (gap hell, it's a big ocean -- and so far, impossible to bridge).

The next day every session had somebody reporting from a country where there was no budget for medications and where people are dying in mass numbers. Like most people from developed countries, I was feeling a bit awkward for complaining all these years about not having enough access or treatment options, and for demanding that the government move faster in releasing new medications.


Alive on Hope

While sitting in these sessions listening to the presentations on the state of the AIDS epidemic in various countries and the struggles to keep people alive on hope and compassion, I also noticed droves of people from developed countries (such as America) get up and walk out during the presentations from disadvantaged countries.

This is one reason why AIDS is out of control in other countries; because the "haves" turn their backs on the "have-not's." Whenever you turn your back on struggling people or a plague, the struggle escalates and the epidemic rages on. For example when the US government turned their backs on us in the early 80's. Exactly like the United States did to women with AIDS and people of color, until most recently (like within the last year).

On a more up beat note, I ran into my friend Dr. Mark Katz on the last day. He asked me if I had attended the sessions about research on women. He was excited to see that some progress has been made in this area. "We've come a long way from Florence," he said. Well, I didn't attend the International Conference in Florence in 1993 but I had a couple of friends who did. There was no data to be found on women. In fact in the plenary session about long-term survivors an activist posed a question about data, women, and survival. The presenter said: "There are no women long-term survivors." Along with several other women with AIDS in the audience, my two friends, Sharon Lund and Linda Luschi, stood up to say; "Well, yes there are, and here we are!" Linda has since passed, but Sharon is alive and well somewhere in the Midwest.

As people who are living with the same virus as someone in Africa or Brazil, we have a duty to help, support and assist in agitating their governments to do the right thing and take care of these people. At least the very current therapies should be made available to them.

For the rest of the conference I watched people in masses walk out during the middle of third-world presentations and they never looked back.


Money for AIDS

The International AIDS Conference is a big world trade show filled with companies who want to sell their products to the AIDS impacted world. We Americans are the big consumers of AIDS products. If all money spent on fancy coffee cups, t-shirts and mouse pads with product names on them maybe then we could spend all that money on AIDS medications for people who live in areas with no ADAP-like programs. I bet we could buy enough drugs for 100,000 people for five years.

As people who have fought long and hard to demand that the US government do the right thing; provide care and treatment for People with AIDS in ethical ways, we must turn our attention, energy and resources to people who are just like us but, who live in other countries. I walked away from this Conference feeling that I can no longer disregard the struggle of PWA's in other parts of the world.


Rage

Women Alive reaches some women in other countries but not enough. We will make a strong commitment to escalate our efforts to reach and sponsor women in other countries. We continue to share with them the information that we have used to prolong our lives. But if people can't get the medicines, information by itself is not enough. We are also committed to sharing with them our organizing skills and some of the tactics we have used to motivate our government. We can only hope that they can use a little of what we have learned from our long struggle and hard-fought battles with government and private industry. Don't give up, the fight is long from over.

Where is your rage?


Back to the Women Alive Fall 1998 Contents Page.




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