I think I can safely speak for all members of the World Youth Alliance (WYA) delegation to the XVII International AIDS Conference when I say that Thursday was a big day for us. Since Tuesday, our language on couples testing, development, denial as a catalyst for AIDS and immigration policies had been distributed at various related panel discussions. We were at the doors giving them to people and they were reading them; it was very exciting.
We also spoke up and asked critical questions at various sessions including ones dealing with harm reduction, gender and HIV and sex work. These brought different ideas to the table and panelists, even those who clearly held significantly different views, felt invited into dialogue. Many of them came and spoke privately with our delegates, offering to continue discussions over email, etc.
It was also on this day that I, along with my Latin American counterpart Lourdes Villanueva, met with Stephen Lewis, the former UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to Africa. He is one of Canada’s most influential public figures and one who is passionately committed to development, particularly in Africa, and to the advancement of women. I had read his book Race Against Time earlier this year in preparation for this AIDS conference. I was struck by how devastating the AIDS epidemic really is and how much further we have to go in delivering the critical elements of authentic human development.
Knowing I didn’t have much time (Mr. Lewis was on his way after having lunch), I thought of the key things I wanted to communicate: 1) World Youth Alliance is a youth run NGO committed to person-centered solutions to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, 2) This kit of literature containing our brochure and two editions of our conference journal, Esperanza, will convey what this means concretely. I knew that Mr. Lewis was committed to fighting this disease and would consider well expressed ideas aimed at that goal. Our person-centered response to HIV/AIDS is well developed and I was happy to put them in the hands of another person who had the ability and influence to put them into action.
Later that day the whole delegation ran into him again and of course, being that the majority of us were Canadian, we had to get another picture with the whole group. Mr. Lewis graciously obliged.
I think the biggest lesson I learned coming out of this conference is that is it critical, especially in this issue where lives are on the line, to speak up for ideas that need to be put on the table and are not. I was also reaffirmed, in my commitment and WYA’s commitment, to work with everyone. There is no political agenda or ideology more important than human lives and any person sincerely committed to fighting AIDS must put those things aside and get down to business. I was happy to discover many other people, of all stripes, committed to doing this.