On the second day of Living 2012 many more people arrived from disparate corners of the world, and as always it was moving and slightly overwhelming to see hundreds of people living with HIV from such variety of countries together.
We continued working on the last two of the three thematic areas identified by the GNP+: Stigma and Discrimination and Community Mobilization.. Those group discussions were a continuation of the online consultations: carried out in the last months. PowerPoint presentations summarizing the three themes ( Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support, Human Right, Community Mobilisation) are available to download, with other documents from the summit here)
The discussion was rich, and I must say we were all concentrating hard. I participated to the session on Stigma and Discrimination in health care settings, and it was heartbreaking to hear so many direct testimonials of lack of care, abuses, negligence, breaches of confidentiality from all over the world. One of the strongest point we made was that we have to continue reporting and collecting evidence on this, as well as strengthen our capacity to develop and use our legal services to challenge those abuses. Accountability was a recurring theme in most human rights discussions we had. We must develop systems to hold accountable those who perpetuate human rights abuses.
The second session I attended was on strengthening Networks of People Living with HIV.
One of the great challenges we face is that of respecting and celebrating our diversity. Looking around the room, I thought, we were doing quite a good job! I have never seen so many church and mosque goers, trans, queer, straight people nodding together before! It is amazing how HIV brings together the most disparate people. However we have to continuously remind ouerselves that there are many different realities in our communities. I personally voiced the concern that by strengthening general networks of people living with HIV certain issues may be weaken, for example gender issues. I know from personal experience how harder we have to work to push for gender issues now that our organization has changed name and remit, moving from Positively Women to Positively UK.
This was my third Living 2012 conference, my first one was in Uganda in 2004 and then Mexico in 2008. I think that in many ways it was the most successful one in having a wider consultative process and a diversity of view points. However it was deeply affected by the fact that many of our friends and colleagues were excluded by US VISA regulations. Many of our friends from the communities of people who use drugs, people who do sex work, people who have been through the criminal justice system, were not with us and it was really felt. Sadly I think that even some of the summaries of key messages at the end of the conference could have been stronger, for example on the need of integrated harm reduction, HIV and family planning services ( I know it was discussed a lot in our group!).
On a positive note I am humbled but how the voice of gay African men, and men who have sex with men is getting stronger and stronger, compared to the first Living conference I attended. Those men still risk their lives for speaking up and work against all odds in very bigoted communities.
Unfortunately the end of the conference was quite underwhelming, to say the least, with a closing panel of heads of WHO, UNAIDS who were once again white men, older, from the North of the world. If we want to be ‘Turning the Tide’, as the title of the International AIDS Conference affirms, we need to have a process that never stops distributing power and opportunities for the most affected populations to be heard and to have agency. I want every single plenary panel to have women, young people, and people who live in the South of the world. We keep saying that we can only do this if we work in union. We now need action: starting from here starting, from now.