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Next week activists, doctors, politicians, and public health experts from around the world will convene in Vienna, Austria, for the XVIII International AIDS Conference. The Conference will last from July 18 to 23 and will include over 25,000 participants from over 100 countries.

The establishment of the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations in 2000 drew international attention to the enormity of the challenges facing our world in the 21st century. MDG 6 vows to combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, and it ramped up the world’s collaboration around the issue of AIDS. The call to action at the 2000 International AIDS Conference in South Africa reiterated the need for cooperation and attention to this issue, and there has been huge progress in providing ARVs to more people around the world, decreasing the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and increasing prevention and education efforts. However, the first major milestone of MDG 6 was to have universal access to treatment by 2010, and that has definitely not been achieved. In fact, the rate of new HIV infections continues to exceed the rate at which access to treatment is expanding.1 The second prong of MDG 6 is to have halted and begun to reduce the spread of HIV around the world by 2015. It’s still possible, and part of the focus of this conference will be sharing best practices and revamping international efforts to that end.

Why hasn’t the international community been able to achieve its goal to halt HIV/AIDS? Read the rest of this entry »

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This is a short segment from a paper I am working on about the Youth Movement in the International HIV/AIDS area. I met Stephanie this past August at the International AIDS conference in Mexico City, and interviewed her on her impression of the state of the youth movement and how young people are mobilizing around HIV and AIDS issues. What follows is an excerpt from the paper and a summary of the interview:

Stephanie is a 16-year-old HIV+ youth from Australia who was born HIV+. She is an incredible young woman and a fervent advocate for children born with HIV. Stephanie recounts that youth don’t get much say or much power in policy making, and much red tape affects a young person’s ability to even participate in events like the International AIDS Conference (she mentioned that it was difficult even for her to get to Mexico to the conference, as individuals under18 years old are not funded to go, because insurance companies don’t allow it). As a young person born with HIV, she has suffered much discrimination and stigma, and despite the many advances and accomplishments of her and her peers, growing up, it was still “very obvious [to her] that [she and other HIV+ youth] weren’t accepted in the community as an organization or as players in the HIV field.” Things have changed dramatically, she noted that even coming to a conference such as the International AIDS Conference surprised here: “people just sat and listened to what I had to say and it was really overwhelming and different.” Stephanie has made this her life goal, and is tirelessly working to make sure that prevention and education are key, and supporting HIV+ people and the discrimination and stigma that they face.

Stephanie believes that getting young HIV+ people involved is key. Her concern is that groups of more experienced and older activists and positive activists aren’t making any room for young people. She mentions that whenever she says anything to them, they think they are being disrespected because she is so young. While having enormous respect for them, starting all these organizations from scratch, she still believes these more experienced activists have an amazing opportunity to mentor and teach youth and they aren’t doing it to the best of their abilities; “would you rather mentor a youth and teach them what you know and know that they will do a good job because you’ve taught them what you know or a random middle-aged person coming into the job who doesn’t know anything.” Her point is well taken and elucidates the need for the peer education others also called for. She also called for a need to break the silence to talk about sex especially by public figures and especially in public forums and debate. She talked about how the US has so much power, and bemoaned how unfortunate it is that they aren’t using it to do as much good as they could be; “The US has a lot of influence, it creates this ‘we should be doing what they are doing because they have the money and the power’.”

The most pressing issue for Stephanie was surprising: “it’s not the illness that’s bothering us, it’s the medication.” She explained that her most pressing issue was the side effects (both physical and psychological) she felt from the HIV medicines she was taking. I learned that pediatric medicines did not exist until Stephanie was about 6, and she so and her mother had to steal medicines that were not appropriate for children, therefore she and many other positive youth now experience symptoms of lipdistrophy (wasting) and lipoatrophy(gaining), where they either gain tremendous amounts of weight in concentrated areas, or they waste away and cannot gain any weight at all.

Stephanie was very clear in explaining that the peer education she and other fellow HIV+ are working to make available. She recalls that “it saved our lives basically because of all the social discrimination we faced… we just needed to be normal.” The biggest problem that is not working right now that Stephanie explained what happens when governments give funding then take it away. She believes that they should either give it or don’t; “it’s way too political for an illness; I don’t know any other illness that is so politically geared and so controversial, and no one wants to talk about it. It makes it really difficult.”

Despite all the hardships and difficulties she has been dealt, or maybe in part because of them Stephanie has become a committed and lifelong advocate for HIV+ youth rights. Her final words stuck with me throughout the conference and still stand out in my mind as so crucial “Nothing about us without us.” I think this is a perfect summary for how policies on youth should be created, and an example of the knowledge and understanding young people have of what they need.

Courtney Matson

Here are some excerpts from our guest blogger Pete Witzler, from Physicians for Human Rights — a round-up of interesting things happening at the conference:

In Plenary Session, Colleague of Iranian Docs Calls for their Release

The most moving aspect of AIDS 2008 so far for me has been meeting so many of Kamiar and Arash Alaei’s friends and colleagues—all of whom have stories and kind words about the two physicians detained in Iran and are hoping to see the brothers again soon. Today, one of their colleagues, Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, gave an important plenary speech about her work on harm reduction—and in front of thousands of conference participants, made an impassioned plea to the Iranian Government to free Arash and Kamiar.

The Powerful Voice of Health Professional Students

I am excited to announce that videos made for World AIDS Day 2007 by students in the US, Kenya and Uganda will be featured at the conference this week. This was one of the advocacy initiatives that PHR’s Student Program has collaborated on with our partner organizations in East Africa. American and East African students created video postcards that were delivered to the US Congress and called on them to make the right to health a reality.

A Grassroots View of Mexico City

I walked into the activist meeting space yesterday morning and a wave of excitement washed over me. We are right behind the dance 4 life exhibition in the global village and they are jamming to some afro-caribbean beats that got me boppin’ as I walked by. When I entered, the room was absolutely buzzing with activity. Groups of people huddled together over blackberries and computers. The copier was humming and rhythmically churning out materials for press conferences. Another group busily making fliers and materials for today’s human rights march.

by Kim Whipkey
originally appeared on http://www.aids2008.com

Women of the world unite for their rights! The past few days have demonstrated the power and visibility of women at the International AIDS Conference, with hundreds of women and girls’ rights activists leading the charge by marching to the Zocalo (the historic city square) to the beat of “all rights for all women.” Women, men, transgender persons, sex workers, lesbians, adolescents, and gender equality advocates are demanding the fundamental human rights of women and young women: the right to live and make decisions without fear of violence, coercion, stigmatization or discrimination; the right to a free, healthy and safe sex life; the right to dignified work; the right to comprehensive information and services regarding prevention and sex education; the right to life-saving treatment… With women comprising 60% of adults living with HIV and AIDS in many regions of the world, women’s lives hang in balance in the absence of these rights.

Perhaps one of the most impressive displays of women’s rights activism at the conference was a rally around an issue that is not typically regarded as generating large, boisterous crowds: female condoms. Rallying for global access to the only currently existing HIV and STI prevention method that women can initiate themselves seems like a no-brainer. Women desperately need the information and tools to take prevention into their own hands—something that female condoms can provide. But advocates can tell you that trying to recruit ten friends to attend a female condoms rally can be a laughable affair…

…except for on Wednesday morning at the conference. Dozens of female condom advocates descended to the media center, singing the praises of female condoms to the tune of “Give Peace [female condoms] a Chance”:

“Everybody’s talkin’ bout
Medication, vaccination, regulation, feminization,
Dedication, integration, coordination, United Nations,
Congratulations!

All we are saying, give females control
All we are saying, give condoms a chance”

The singing erupted into dance with the help of Dance4Life. Dancing to expand access to female condoms worldwide? Who knew! Chants and hip swivels demanding access to the FC2 (the second generation of the female condom manufactured by the Female Health Company), to female condoms being twirled and tossed into the air, the message was clear: failure to make female condoms accessible and available to all women across the world is a grave injustice and violation of women’s human rights.

Help us spread the word about the importance of female condoms to women’s health and rights worldwide! Visit www.preventionnow.net for more information about female condoms and to join the campaign to expand global access to female condoms and other prevention options for women and men NOW. You aren’t required to dance…but we are asking you to give female condoms a chance so women and young women will have the full range of prevention options that they deserve.

by: Kim Whipkey
originally posted on www.aids2008.com

Young people want female condoms. They are seeking information and better access to them. They are demanding the only effective and currently available method to prevent HIV that young women and women
can initiate themselves.

This groundswell of interest in female condoms surfaced at the Mexico
YouthForce Pre-Conference, particularly during a workshop I co-facilitated around expanding prevention options for women and girls. To my elation, virtually all of the 40 workshop participants had heard of female condoms, and more than half had seen or touched one. For female condom advocates, this is a rare and exciting encounter.

But the sobering refrain throughout the pre-conference was that while
many youth are passionate about female-initiated prevention options, including the female condom, they remain largely inaccessible in a wide range of countries, even for young women and men who go out of their
way to find them.

One young woman from Mexico visited ten stores in her local community before she was able to find one that sold female condoms. Yet another Mexican woman passed me a hand-written note during my presentation, stating that her peer education organization is interested in obtaining female condoms but doesn’t know to whom or where to turn, or how to pay for them.

A young man from Guyana and a young woman from Kenya shared similar stories. They reported that many young people in each country have heard of female condoms, but the product simply is not accessible for
youth. In the limited places where female condoms are available, they are costly. Whereas Guyana and Kenya are both PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) focus-countries, this is an inexcusable tragedy. Lives could be saved if female condoms were in the hands of young women and men in Guyana, Kenya, and in countries around the world.

My organization, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), works to ensure that U.S. international policies and programs promote sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls worldwide. We believe United States can and should do more to increase global access to female condoms. In this respect, CHANGE hosts the Prevention Now! Campaign–a global campaign to advocate for dramatically increased access to female condoms and other existing options for women and men NOW!

For those at the International AIDS  Conference, we encourage you to visit the Prevention Now! Campaign at the Global Village’s Women’s Networking Zone. There you can try out (and try on!), the female condom and sign the petition to urge greater access to female condoms
globally.

For more information, please visit www.preventionnow.net and download
Saving Lives Now: Female Condoms and the Role of U.S. Foreign Aid, a
new report from CHANGE that documents U.S. investment in global female
condom procurement, distribution and programming.

Together, we can help make female condoms available and accessible to all!

So Day 1 of the preconference is over… there have been some really incredible incites and ideas. What I have realized and think is most important is that young people from all over the world – students, HIV positive youth, and representatives from countless local, national and international organizations, as well as youth delegates from UN agencies – do indeed have the power to make change. From grassroots advocacy to public policy work, to peer education programs, to comprehensive sex and reproductive health programming, there are SO many things that young people are ALREADY doing. It is just a matter of the larger population engaging them to help make change around approaches to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and education.

I would love to hear more about what others think, so please feel free to comment on this blog, and let me know your thoughts!

Thanks,
Courtney

One of the best sessions at the preconference so far what entitled “Expanding Prevention Options for Women and Girls” led by three incredible women, including a friend and colleague of mine, Kim Whipkey from the Center for Gender and Health Equity (CHANGE). This session focused on female condoms, microbicides, vaccines and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). These prevention options, though many still in the early testing or development phases, greatly expand the range of options women have to protect themselves from transmission of HIV as well as infection of other STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

For more on female condoms and other female-initiated prevention methods, check back tomorrow!

The Youth Preconference began today, and what a whirlwind it has been! There are more than 300 young people (26 and under) here, and they are one incredible bunch. I’ve met people from Kenya, Belgium, Turkmenistan, Guyana, Canada, Uganda, Mexico, Vietnam and everywhere in between.

There are also some really incredible speakers and workshops. Here’s a taste of the day’s events:

9am: Welcome and Opening Remarks – Steve Krauss, Chief of the HIV/AIDS branch of UNFPA spoke. He had three key messages for the youth in the room:

1. HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health Go Hand-in-Hand: There will be some people who think that youth should only be concerned with AIDS. We need to encourage them to see that AIDS doesn’t exist on its own, and needs to be addressed within a framework of sexual and reproductive health, especially among young people. According to the 2008 UN report launched this past Tuesday in New York, only 38% f women and 40% of men know how HIV is transmitted.

2. Reproductive Health is a Human Right: Your health is your right. This includes access to information on health, health skills, education and more.

3. Prevention Efforts Need to be Doubled: Currently, only 2 people have access to HIV prevention resources for every 5 who need it. We need to hold our governments accountable for prevention and how well they are doing on it.

10:30am: Plenary on Youth and the AIDS Epidemic

This session talked about why it is so important to organize around young people, and also discussed in-depth the question of:

“Why are young people so vulnerable to HIV?” Many answers and perspectives were given, including:

  1. Lack of comprehensive sex education
  2. Lack of access to youth-friendly services, including condoms, and contraceptives
  3. High numbers of young people in what are considered “high risks groups” (in this were mentioned sex workers, migrant populations, Men who have sex with men (MSM) and intravenous drug users (IDUs) who also lack access to information and resources needed to help keep themselves healthy and safe.
  4. Poverty and Unemployment, and discrimination because of these factors
  5. Gender, with women and girls particularly affected, as in many places it is harder for them to negotiate safe sex
  6. Human rights violations
  7. Lack of meaningful involvement of young people

more on the sessions to come soon.

whew! Finally arrived after a long flight into Mexico City with lots of luggage and materials for the conference. I will be checking back in daily, and updating you on the events I am attending at the preconference, as well as the main conference, but to get a better sense of what the youth preconference will include, you can view the schedule the preconference website.

Also, check out the youth commitments postcards. You can download them, put them on your own website or blog, or just take a look at them.

Check back tomorrow for reports back on specific sessions of the conference!
Hasta Luego,

Courtney

Hi, and welcome to AID’s new blog! To start things out, we are going to be blogging on the XVII International AIDS conference in Mexico City this August, 2008. This includes the youth preconference, which will be taking place from July 31-August 3, and the main conference, which will be from August 3-8. The conference will bring together more than 25,000 people from around the world, including AIDS activists, scientists, policy makers, people living with AIDS, community groups and health workers engaging in dialogue, debate, action, advocacy and networking around AIDS issues.

Check back for daily updates and responses to events and actions taking place in Mexico City around international AIDS issues, follow my experiences in Mexico, comment on the blog entries, and let me know what you’d like to see more or less of.

Best,

Courtney Matson
courtney@aidemocracy.org

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