July 27, 2010
My intention on my last day in Vienna was to stop in the Global Village for an hour and then cut out and do some sightseeing. Well ... I stayed there four hours and saw a lot. It's great to go to an international AIDS conference -- the energy, the diversity, the solidarity and the possibilities and evidence for change are awesome and the Global Village embodies that. It is a large exhibit hall, adjoining the conference, where people with HIV, affected communities, NGOs, activists and health agencies interact with scientists, physicians, government and civil leaders. It is a place to learn and for many to express themselves, to interact with opinion leaders in a more comfortable space, or there are places to just chill out and catch up. It was great -- there were booths from NGOs from around the globe. (I learned it was free for non-profits -- there is no exhibitor fee -- hope that holds in the United States in 2012.) There were booths from Act-UP Paris to China Youth Network to the International Union of Sex Workers to Housing Works! There were dance performances by Youth ("stomp stomp clap clap -- HIV -- take responsibility") and art work and video showings and special sessions where plenary speakers met with small groups of people for in-depth discussions and spots where you could buy little handmade crafts (mostly from African NGOs) and a little place for tea. It went on and on. It's a space full of life and creativity and diversity.
I sat and watched a documentary The Lazarus Effect produced by HBO about patients in Zambia. First interviewed about their hopes and dreams before ARVs were available and then again when the film makers, Lance Bags and Spike Jonze returned two months later after ARVs. The changes were astounding. Not everyone survived and the stories are still heartbreaking -- but remarkable change happened. To see the video go to www.joinred.com/splash.htm.
Change happens. To me, the most profound moment was during an earlier plenary when Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa's Minister of Health spoke about universal access to treatment and scaling up ARV treatment and prevention. It was only a five years ago that the South African government denied HIV caused AIDS and the former Health Minister touted garlic and vitamins as the treatment for AIDS. I was in Johannesburg in 2002 and witnessed the government refusing funds from the Clinton Foundation to buy ARVs to treat HIV positive health care workers. Now, the new South African President and the Minister of Health have a national strategy to test 15 million people and get more than 2 million people on ARVs. Wow.
In the Global Village there is a Youth Pavilion, a networking space that is part of the Youth Programme at AIDS 2010. I listened to groups of young people from around the world talk to each other about common issues, such as access to appropriate services, prevention efforts that work for them and their peers, their reality in condom use and sexual negotiations, and heard the experiences and wisdom of young MSM and young women including transgendered young women living with HIV. I was reminded that too often, youth continue to be left out of planning and delivering interventions that directly affect their lives. I was absolutely reminded that it is essential to engage, encourage and acknowledge youth as assets and leaders in the fight to end HIV both here and globally. I wondered what it will take to make that change happen outside of the conference Global Village.
Post script -- On the plane ride home I re-read the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (and watched three movies). Again, I was impressed by how well written and full of common sense most of it is. It's our plan and I encourage you to read it and use it. BUT there is a big gap -- youth are conspicuously absent. It starts out appropriately on page two "One quarter of new HIV infections occur among adolescents and young adults (13-29)" but then (by my imperfect yellow post-it method of word searching) youth/young people are only referred to 3 more times -- and one doesn't really count as it only points out that 1/3 of youth share common misperceptions about HIV transmission. The role of schools in HIV prevention and comprehensive sex education is weakly noted once as is the role for schools in stigma reduction, and I was specifically searching.
Imagine what a remarkable change might occur in the risk for gay young men and African American youth in acquiring HIV if there was a real investment in them that started with comprehensive sex education, and that included effective HIV prevention in the schools -- real education that included empowerment and skill building for girls and gay youth that would last a lifetime. Imagine youth leading an HIV prevention and care movement for youth. Wow. Youth have already told us what will work for them and their peers for both prevention and access/retention in youth friendly care. You can read some of that at www.aids-alliance.org/youthnhassummary.pdf.
Change will happen when we go beyond convening and listening to youth and take the next step and acknowledge and act on their ideas and suggestions. They are telling us that the same old approaches aren't working for them (25% of new infections). We have a lot of work to do to get that change started -- beginning with making sure that the unique needs of youth in HIV prevention and care are not missed in the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
Founded in 1994, AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families (AACYF) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to advance the partnership between consumers and providers -- they are the voice of women, children, youth and families living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. AACYF works to enhance and expand access to quality, comprehensive, family-centered care to America's women, children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS. For more information on AIDS Alliance, visit www.aids-alliance.org.