July 16, 2004
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, organizers and delegates, and especially people living with HIV/AIDS. I would like to thank the Thai government, the International AIDS Society and the co-organizers for the initiative of holding this conference in Thailand. Thai hospitality has been evident in many ways. Mostly, I would like to thank God. He is the author of my life, my Savior and Lord. My name is Violeta. I am 27. I am Bolivian. Bolivia is a small developing country in Latin America. You can see it now on the map. The map please. As a small part of my culture I want to show you the typical Bolivian shawl that I'm wearing now and I would also ask you to think of Latin America as an important part of the world that needs global support to deal with HIV/AIDS. We would like to ask the IAS to consider South America for hosting the International AIDS Conference in 2008. The Caribbean and Latin America belong to one region, but it is a diverse one. We have model countries like Brazil with successful responses to AIDS, but also poor countries like Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador. To advocate is difficult for us because our statistics do not convince policymakers. People with HIV in Latin America are women, youth, children and men dying everyday because of the lack of commitment of many politicians. In Latin America we need access to antiretroviral treatment, integral care, technical and financial resources to uphold the community response. In Latin America we do need the global support to deal with HIV/AIDS. I will share a small part of my life story with you because it is similar to most of the lives of many young Latin American women.
When I was 20, I was raped by 2 strangers while going home after school. This experience changed my life forever. I became sexually active without having acute information about the risk of AIDS. This personal statement leads me to the first challenge we have to face. To address the gender structures that put young women and men at risk of AIDS. Many young women are engaging with older men. They find HIV wrapped inside a valentine's gift when they are in love. Women find themselves in imbalanced power relationships. We must end all forms of violence against women and girls and provide education and legal services for them. We must face the gender inequalities that increase the risk of AIDS for both women and men.
These difficulties lead me to the second challenge, to involve youth more actively in the AIDS response. We must work with youth. Today we find two types of positive youth. Those who acquire HIV because of unprotected behavior and those who were born with HIV. The needs for both groups are different. The youth at risk of AIDS are diverse. They include young girls, young men who have sex with men, young people involved with [Inaudible] sex as a means of livelihood, youth in poverty or friends injecting drug users and also differently abled youth. They face particular problems related to their cultures, gender inequity, poverty, lack of access to information and services among many others. We must deliberate the fact that youth are an available and powerful resource for an effective response to AIDS. I want to call up on government cooperation, agencies and NGOs to look at youth as important actors in the AIDS fight and to support them.
As a person living with HIV I consider one of the most important challenges we still have to face is the access to treatment care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS. We demand accountability on the global commitments to scale up treatment. I celebrate the fact that the access for [Inaudible] is becoming a reality, however important initiatives like 3x5, [Inaudible] declarations, millennium development goals and regional agreements are not a guarantee of access to treatment for people with HIV. Being accountable means taking concrete actions. Eradicate the bureaucracy [Inaudible] in the antiretroviral [Inaudible] and delivery, which in turn leads to needless deaths. Seek political commitment and resource mobilization to scale up treatment. Fund the fund. The Global Fund is the only window of hope for countries like mine, however understand that [Inaudible] rise of antiretroviral drugs should go to the Global Fund and then to the government, not to bureaucracy.
The last challenge I want to speak about is stigma and discrimination. I recall experiences of different people with AIDS dealing with painful stigma and discrimination experiences, but I also want to share an idea that may lead to change. Given that we are living in a particular time when HIV/AIDS information is widely distributed, it seems like some persistent attitudes of stigma and discrimination are based on ideology rather than information. I thank my Peruvian friend and artist, Fernando Libos who was inspired by quilts and typical patchwork of the Andean region to create works, which showed me that stigma and discrimination have no rationale. In fact they are irrational attitudes and they seemed to be linked to two basic feelings, hate or love. In Latin America we think magic and dreams may become reality. We believe it is possible to eradicate the stigma and discrimination. This artist has a dream; the name of this dream is the garden. It means one day there will be a garden where love all humans have inside will flourish. This blooming love like plants will be a powerful tool to deal with the stigma and discrimination. We need nothing more, nothing less, only love. Thank you.
Gracia Violeta Ross is with the International Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS.
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