AIDS 2012 Opening Session

By Starr Britt

AIDS 2012 delegates are counting on the global community to continue to fight against the war on HIV, through solidarity, steadfastness, and the utilization of new science which could bring us to an “AIDS free generation.”

Speakers at the opening ceremony of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), held on Sunday evening, July 22, mentioned several buzz words, such as, “AIDS free generation”, “social movement”, “social determinants”, “treatment and prevention” as well as AIDS 2012 conference theme, “turning the tides.”  However, as women living with and affected by HIV, we waited to hear words that spoke to our experiences and our stories. We waited for tangible plans for ending the epidemic through solidarity and action not traditional political jargon.

As said by plenary speaker, Ana Sango, 24, of Zimbabwe, “Frankly we are getting tired of repeating ourselves… why do so many of the same old problems exist? 2012’s pandemic has a woman’s shape… we need to look with clear eyes to see old problems, why are we working on the same old problems every 2 years? What is missing? We are missing! I’m a young woman, transitioning into full adulthood, full womanhood, I would like to do that in a safe space, I ask you, how are you holding yourself accountable?”  An AIDS free generation looks like a generation which takes global responsibility for the safety and quality of life of all of its women and girls by discussing, implementing, and following through on plans for addressing racism and women’s equality. Policy decisions that affect women must include them in the decision-making process,” Sango said. “This means all women, including women who use drugs and women sex workers.”

UN Secretary General, Michel Sidibé spoke to dealing with social determinants such as poverty, gender-based violence, homophobia, and housing to health outcomes. “Wealth is not enough to end this epidemic, said Sidibé.  Sidibé, highlighted rampant HIV funding cuts and financial gaps from various countries commitment are now focusing on their own struggles with economic crisis. These problems have shifted the focus away from the war on HIV.  “I’m afraid for the future of global solidarity,” Sidibe said.

Ban Ki-moon , UN Secretary General followed echoing the Sadibe’s  theme of turning the tides by taking HIV out of isolation and tapping  into the importance of a social movement.

Congresswoman, Barbra Lee, acknowledge the bipartisan support in allowing the US travel ban to be lifted. Echoing the refrain of many of the speakers, the congresswoman, addressed the issue of communities of color being disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic. “We can not end AIDS without greater financial resources and a clear plan for ending the epidemic,” stated Congresswoman Lee. Quoting Bono she said “We are not here for a victory lap we are here to pick up the pace.” “We must do this by redoubling our commitment to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, National HIV/AIDS Strategy and humanity and dignity of all people .”

In summary, all speakers spoke of messages of thanks to the U.S. for being global leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Speakers thanked President Obama for lifting the travel ban.

But, AIDS 2012 speakers said it’s not enough. Sex workers and drug users need to be included in the global dialogue. Ellu Katabira of Uganda , and Diane Havlir, MD, of UCSF urged the U.S. and the rest of the world to do more.  Havlir said. “if we don’t try to end AIDS now, there will be millions of new infections and the death toll will continue to climb.”

World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, mentioned the role poverty plays in driving the HIV epidemic. Kim vowed that the World Bank, under his leadership, would dedicate itself to eradicating poverty and supporting economic and social justice through the building of health systems and the implementation of social protection programs. “To do this, we need to share knowledge and know how,” said Kim.

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, addressed by video the 2012 targets set last year by the UN General Assembly. Ki-Moon promised to continue HIV advocacy for universal access to care, prevention, treatment, and support.

The last segment of speakers included, ambassador Mark Dybul, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who ended the session with a reminder of all the achievements  in new HIV science and treatment and a pleaded to nations to continue working to achieve an AIDS-free world.