At the end of July, youth advocates Jihan Salad, Michiel Andeweg and Nina van der Mark and Irene Zalira from YECE, our Malawian partner organization, attended the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Washington DC.
The IAC is the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It is a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. This is why the theme of the conference was ‘Turning the tide together'. It was the first time in years that the conference could be held in America, because the travel ban for people living with HIV was lifted.
Before the main conference CHOICE participated in the Youth Pre-conference, organised by the DC Youth Force. The DC Youth Force is a network of several young organizations working together in the field of SRHR and HIV/AIDS, and CHOICE acted as one of its members. Nina and Jihan facilitated a workshop on Youth-Adult partnerships that was received well under participants, Michiel facilitated a workshop on the ICPD+20 processes, and Nina got the chance to speak at the closing session in the auditorium.
‘Ending AIDS is not too expensive; it is priceless.’ Michel Sibide, president of UNAIDS shared this at the opening session of the main conference. Throughout the conference the day started with a plenary session, with speakers including Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Lady Laura Bush, Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and many others. Throughout the day there were several things one could do; attending sessions on scientific breakthroughs, policies, rights and even on pleasure, going to the exhibition hall where several dutch NGOs, like dance4life, Rutgers WPF, Hivos and Cordaid were present at a Dutch Booth, illustrating the Dutch approach, or heading down to the global village, a huge hall open to the public with networking zones, booths, community dialogue spaces, performances and fierce protests. On Monday Nina spoke as a panelist on the ICPD2014 processes where she embodied the voice of young people.
Tuesday Nina Jihan and Irene had a meeting with the Dutch HIV/AIDS ambassador and two representatives from dance4life, Melissa Tuit and Kaila Clark-Mendes. It was a great opportunity to have an open dialogue and share country specific experiences on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and for the Hollland House to provide the space to do this.
Afterwards the advocates attended the We Can End AIDS march. Experiencing a mass mobilization of that scale also helped to reignite our passion for our cause. The rest of the conference accounted for a lot of gained knowledge on various aspects of the pandemic. There was a lot of attention to the rights of sex workers and drug users, since they were unable to attend the IAC. Young people were also present as a focus, with the youth pavilion in the global village, young people facilitating and attending sessions and having a youth rapporteur, James Gray, giving an amazing summary of all the activities organized in the youth programme. Realizing that there are so many aspects also emphasized the importance of cooperation between all these different actors. Our approach to ending this disease must be joint and inclusive. On to Melbourne, 2014!