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Silvia Petretti and Vuyiseka Dubula

Silvia Petretti and Vuyiseka Dubula

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HE THEME of Monday, the first day of the conference, for me has been leadership. Maybe it is because I was facilitating a workshop on developing leadership skills for women living with HIV, with my comrades Angelina Namiba and Inviolata Mmbawavi.

During the session we tried to address the issue of openness. We asked participants: on a scale of one to ten.  How open are you about your status? Where would you like to be? What needs to happen for you to move just one point on this scale?

After those questions we aimed to build a tree of action with post-its on a flip chart.

We asked participants:

What can you do personally to move forward and be more open as an HIV positive woman leader?

What can you do to move forward as a leader with the support from other people living with HIV?

What do you need to campaign for your government to do?

The aim of this exercise was to inspire a process of moving from the personal, to the collective to the political, and understand how all those elements are part of one continuum.

Those questions kept resonating in my head and manifested during the course of the day.

The plenary featured Vuyiseka Dubula the Director of Treatment Action Campaign, the organization instrumental in making HIV treatment affordable in developing countries: thanks to their tireless campaigning. She exemplified the power of openness.

A South African HIV positive woman from the township advocating for Positive Health Dignity and Prevention. This is an approach to prevention that acknowledges equal responsibility of negative and positive people in the transmission of HIV. People with HIV in this paradigm are not seen as mere vector of infection but as actors who can promote prevention, within a context where human rights are fully respected.

Bill Clinton also spoke at this first plenary. He may no longer  be the President of the USA , but made a very strong call for political action and for continuing funding the epidemic. Clinton spoke for nearly an hour and it would be impossible for me to capture his incredible skills and charisma as a public speaker.

Among the many things he mentioned was the need for new fund raising strategies such as those adopted for Haiti earthquake, where a huge number of people gave small amounts, through text messages and the internet.

Obviously he had to speak quite a length on how it is crucial at this point in history, in which we have reached some tangible goals, not to retreat because of the economic crisis.

He made once again the point that the economic argument for promoting Public Global Health, needs to be made stronger: “Health Care is not just a right is an economic investment,” he said.

To conclude his speech he made a ‘bucket list’,  things he would love to see happen before he kicks the bucket: “What I really care about is to see my grandchildren, an for all grandchildren of the world to grow to know their grandparents.” We have done good but we need to do better if we want those two generations to stay healthy and meet.

Bill and Vuyseka represented for me, some answers to the personal and political questions about leadership I had asked the participants of my session. Even though Clinton had been harshly criticized while he was in power, for doing very little for people with HIV.

My question on what we can do as people with HIV to move our leadership forward was addressed in the last session of the day: GIPA at the Grassroots Level and Beyond. GIPA means: Greater (and Meaningful has been subsequently added) Involvement of PLHIV.

It was historically born in the Denver Principles in 1983, and signed as a full declaration by 42 countries in 1994. GIPA means that PLHIV should be involved at all level of decision making in the response to the epidemic.

During this session many examples of collective action by PLHIV were exemplified. The most striking for me was the Ukrainian Network of PLHIV, one of the largest networks of PLHIV in the world with over 200.000 members,  100 of them are open about their status.

They are the principle recipients of the 6th round of funding from the Global Fund. In spite of the fact that most of its members are or have been drug users (a group not exactly famous for political action and expressing power) they have made ARV’s and drug substitution therapies a reality in their country.

It has been another amazing day here in Vienna. One of the most moving events has been that at the end of our session on leadership two women, one who had been positive for 17 years, and one for five, disclosed their status to the group. It was very emotional, but it was also an honour to witness those two women take their first step towards leadership.

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