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AIDS2016 and Melania Trump Stealing more than Just a Speech!

By Shakira Choonara
on July 22, 2016

No discussion on HIV/AIDS can be complete without the nitty-gritties of target 3.3 (by 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases) of Sustainable Development Goal 3 which ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being for all ages, and which we cannot forget  ‘meshes’ together the biggest (AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria causes of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa at least into one target).  I might have been too young, wait not yet even born, to remember the very first International AIDS Conference (IAC), in Atlanta , United States (US) in 1985 which hosted approximately 2000 American and European participants – this taking into consideration the US visa restrictions on travellers with HIV/AIDS but thank goodness for the internet to follow the history and keeping me hip and up-to-date on target 3.3 actions such as #AIDS2016, way to go with live streaming I tell you! In fact that raises the question of whether we still need face-to-face conferences or is it about time we forget about jet lag, transits and go digital (maybe even save some of that money to put to use elsewhere)! Though don’t let me get distracted, especially since I’m looking forward to the Fourth Global Health Symposium!

I must say as a South African (SA) I was so proud to see AIDS2016 taking place in the beautiful city of Durban on Mandela Day, it added the much needed Mandela Magic despite him no longer being with us – who can forget that he was the one of the few political leaders of our time who openly supported the battle against HIV/AIDS. It is remarkable how the IAC has grown substantially to over 20,000 participants inclusive and representative of many countries around the world! Most exciting was for the nation and world to remember the young AIDS activist and icon Nkosi Johnson, whose demeanour, work and tragic story of dying at just 12 years old can and should never be forgotten! I have to say that Melania Trump might not admit her plagiarism (oh if she consulted with an academic, she could have gotten away with it by citing it) instead her speech made bigger waves on social media with the unintended consequence of overshadowing the great opening delivery of AIDS2016 by the dazzling actress and United Nations Messenger for Peace (Hollywood), Charlize Theron.  Theron was quite provocative in arguing that she was disappointed that South Africa had to host the IAC 21 years on, and a second time round. She went on to highlight , “we have the tools to fight HIV/AIDS… the problem is that… we value some lives over others… men over women… rich over poor… white over black!” Theron also threw out statistics which are difficult to fathom, last year (2015) 2.1 million people died from HIV/AIDS, of whom 180,000 were from SA!

AIDS2016 also saw other big names, from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon attending along with Bill Gates, who addressed the conference. Gates spoke on the issue of funding which is there for the fight against HIV/AIDS, but highlighted the need for implementation and execution (p.s. we agree Bill, though we worry about the fragmentation and the, oh so ‘noble’ intentions)! In my personal opinion the most exciting aspect of a conference is to follow the work (ACTION) of civil society organisations (CSO), and this blog would not be complete if I didn’t consider SA’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). The TAC have made historic and momentous strides in the battle against HIV/AIDS especially with their life-changing Antiretroviral therapy (ART) Campaign in the year 2000. The TAC together, with its partner organisations did not disappoint, they marched on the 18th of July at the IAC2016 demanding:

  1. All people living with HIV need access to quality comprehensive HIV treatment now!
  2. No healthcare without healthcare workers and a functional public healthcare system!
  3. No more patents on medicine!
  4. No more discrimination and criminalisation of key populations!
  5. Increase funding for the global AIDS response!

I must admit I also haven’t slept very well over the last few years; reason-being that despite the value and change that TAC has brought to HIV/AIDS and other important health battles such as silicosis court battles of mine-workers (thwarting mining capital in the country), it is unacceptable to hear of their struggle for funding – “Dear Bill Clinton and other prolific funders, perhaps it’s time to fund those who fight for action like the TAC”! Oh, if only we academics and researchers could ‘demand’ and use the likes of exclamation marks in our writing we might not be having the 21st IAC!

Another interesting article to read would be the Open Society Foundation’s piece on how SA cleaned the streets of Durban of homeless people, sex-workers, drug dealers and sex-workers ahead of AIDS2016 – a conference which is meant to deal with these very ‘vulnerable populations.’ So much for inclusivity! I’m optimistic this time around though, with the best innovation the stylish couture ‘red condom dresses’ showcased during the conference!

P.S. there you have it and it’s almost as if I were there! Although if you don’t trust me do follow our @ev4gh twitter page for live coverage from EV alumni Hyacinthe Kankeu, Solomon Huruva and EV communications representative Bolanle Banigbe!