XVII International AIDS Conference – Sorrow, Hope and the Big Dragon

Here is another blog dispatch from World Youth Alliance member Theodora Ferrant. Theo is a Canadian WYA member from Ontario who worked in New York as an intern in the fall of 2007. She is now a graduate student of philosophy at Dominican College of Ottowa where she also heads up a WYA campus group. Right now she is down in Mexico representing WYA at the XVII International AIDS Conference. Here is what she said…

Sorrow and Hope: The Opening Session – August 3, 2008

The many speeches that graced the opening session of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City were overshadowed, in my humble opinion, by the speech of the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae -not by his eloquence or ability to play the crowd (the absence of applause throughout his speech was quite audible) but by his simplicity and his true earnestness in the fight to save his people. The southern African nation has been among the greatest affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and was among the first to adopt western standards in the fight against the infection. Mr. Mogae expressed both “sorrow” at the loss of family members and neighbors and “hope” in the ability of people to overcome the disease.

Mr. Mogae´s was among the only speeches which did not speak of international aid or the various scientific discoveries as the key source of progress in the fight against AIDS. He said, and I quote, ¨I believe that part of the solution is for African leadership to come together in a spirit of shared responsibility. Where HIV prevention has worked, time and again the solutions have come locally from the affected communities.¨ He then challenged the international community to take new and innovative steps in achieving HIV prevention such as determining ´the most effective ways to reduce transmission where multiple concurrent sexual partnerships appear to be driving the epidemic. We must tackle head on the issue of early sexual debut with vulnerable young girls. How do we teach these young women to negotiate safe sex and dominance? For our brothers and sisters that are already positive, what community support mechanisms need to be fostered to prevent further transmission? We know what works in epidemics that are still concentrated in those that engage in risky behavior such as injecting drug use or sex work.´ Mr. Mogae was a breath of fresh air in the very stuffy room of UN riddled jargon which has produced much applause but scant results. Action is needed, universal and local action, now.



Money and Competition: Witnessing the Very Big Dragon – August 4, 2008

The opening session of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City well summarized the direction in which the conference was headed. IAS President and Co-Chair of the XVII International AIDS Conference, Pedro Cahn of Argentina, opened the conference with the words “we need more funding – not more competition.” I look around the exhibition area of the Centro Banamex and see how his words are lost on the community of those who fight AIDS. The funding is there alright, and it seems possible that such enormous funding has bred so much competition that it makes one’s head swim. There are exhibitions for all sorts of pharmaceuticals, banks, and foundations which are all jumping on the billion dollar band wagon that is the AIDS fight.

I’m now going to steal Bill Clinton’s simplistic metaphor and run with it. Clinton in his opening speech today described AIDS as a “big dragon” which must be “slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers.” I wonder if the AIDS fight has become its own dragon. The dragon of vendetta to end discrimination against one’s own particular life-style seems to be consuming the efforts of these foot soldiers while the metaphorical dragon of AIDS lies camouflaged behind it. The funding is here alright and so are the many men and women who really do want to stop the spread of AIDS but are distracted by the competition.

Theodora Ferrant – World Youth Alliance