The International AIDS Conference (IAC) hosted in Washington D.C kicked off with great optimism and hope as various actors in fight to tame the HIV and AIDS virus came together at the venue to share knowledge and build global movements to sustain the anti-AIDS campaign. They are also considering all available options to end the four-decade scourge through concerted collective actions.
ACORD is being represented at hte IAC by a team of experts in the field of HIV and AIDS. They include the Head of Policy and Advocacy, Mrs. Salina Sanou; HIV and AIDS Thematic Manager, Ellen Bajenja and Uganda's Country Coordinator
for ACORD, Mr. Dennis Nduhura. The team settled in Washington D.C and immediately embarked on setting up the ACORD stand, networking with other delegates and disseminating information, education and communication materials. They are also posting updates every hour on ACORD's Twitter page (@ACORDAfrica) therefore making it possible for thousands of people to follow the event's proceedings from around the world.
One outstanding encouragement has been the leadership commitment demonstrated by the United States Government through the lifting of the travel ban which has enabled people living with HIV and AIDS to enter the United States. The presence of a high powered government delegation has been yet another sign of renewed efforts in the response especially at this very critical moment.
ACORD's Salina Sanou (left in blue jacket) and Ellen Bajenja (in red skirt) engage other participants in group discussions during the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C
Local and national leaders who have participated in the grand opening ceremony of the conference include US Secretary for Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, Congresswoman Barbra Lee, Mayor of Washington D.C, Vincent Gray and Ambassador Mark Dyul. The Global leadership team include South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, UNAIDS Executive Director Micheal Sidibe and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.
From these leaders come messages of hope signaling new and revived energies towards addressing the HIV and AIDS pandemic in better and cost effective interventions delivered to affected populations through collective and coordinated manner. "The end of AIDS is not free, it is not expensive but it is priceless", said Micheal Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
"In my tenure of office as President of the World Bank Group, I will ensure that the World Bank works tirelessly with (HIV and) AIDS actors to drive (away) the epidemic until we win. Partnership with civil society organisations that deliver services to the populations in need will be my signature and legacy", said Jim Yong Kim, President World Bank Group.
"It is worth noting that since 1999 no baby (in Washington D.C) has been born with HIV. This is a result of the concerted efforts by the Municipality to ensure that AIDS is kept on the agenda in our communities. D.C has a high prevalence rate and these efforts are aimed at tackling this trend", said Vincent Gray, Mayor of Washington D.C.
Together against the Spread of HIV
Amidst the leaders voices of hope and courage, came questions flagging outstanding challenges that are yet to be tackled if we are to reap benefits from the struggle.
Ebube Slyvia is a 14 year old girl who was born to a mother living with HIV at the time of her birth. She applauded the contribution that gave her a life certificate free of HIV at the time of birth. However, she will be remembered long after the conference for asking a question that still puzzles many health and policy practitioners in the fight against HIV and AIDS: "I do not understand why some babies are still born with HIV."
Anna Sango, a youth member of the International Community for Women Living with HIV and AIDS from Zimbabwe, noted with concern that a number of questions paused in Vienna during the 18th International conference, were still unanswered. "I wonder why those factors that are now well known to be key in the spread of the epidemic are still topical issues today. Why do governments condone violence against women in conflict and the cultures that perpetuate it?"
The International AIDS conference provides a venue for dialogue around these and many other social, behavioral and scientific questions to be answered. It provides room for sharing what works, what needs to be changed, who should be targeted and what different stakeholders should do. The outstanding response to these and other challenges is a call to collective action, to "Turn the Tide Together".
Stakeholders will over one week be involved in identifying like-minded actors and drawing out strategic alliances for responding to the multi-dimensional challenges of the epidemic.