This week the OneWorld Mobile4Good team is in Washington, DC, for the Nineteenth International AIDS Conference. Keep an eye out for posts here and on our Twitter feed to stay in touch with the action...
It's the end of day 2 here in Washington, and there are definitely a few trends emerging. Some of them are positive - there's a lot of talk about the having the end of the epidemic in sight, and the AIDS-Free Generation message is in full swing. There's a lot to be cautiously optimistic about in the world of AIDS advocacy, research, and policy right now. A diagnosis of HIV no longer has to be a death sentence, and we're fully capable of preventing a new generation from being born with the virus.
Some of the messages that are emerging are more cautionary - yes the end of the virus is in sight, but there's a lot still to be done and actually getting to this AIDS-Free Generation will take ongoing sustained commitment to health, development, and human rights. We're still not reaching the key populations most at risk for contracting the virus, and we're still not living up to our own stated values when it comes to giving people a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.
And then there's one message that I keep hearing over and over and over again, one that becomes more grating and conspicuous with every repetition. The speakers from the United States, especially the high profile ones, keep starting their speeches by grandiously welcoming everyone back to the US. Now, the AIDS Conference hasn't been held in the US for 22 years, and for a good reason: US immigration policy didn't allow for anyone living with HIV to enter the US. Period. In 2010, that changed, and so the conference returned.
But it wasn't only people living with HIV who were banned from entering the United States. Sex workers can't get visas unless they take an anti-prostitution pledge. Injecting drug users can't get visas. As the conference starts in DC, two of the most affected groups are still categorically denied access and deprived of their voice in decision-making. Despite protests and a separate conference hub organised by and for sex workers in Kolkata connecting to collaborative organising within the conference, speakers keep patting themselves on the back for changing the travel ban without even a hint of acknowledgement of the people still excluded.
Not only is it frustrating and offensive, it's unprecedented. Previous conference hosts have focused more on the privilege of hosting advocates and learning from researchers, a humility which seems sorely lacking this year. Being a bit jaded, I can't help but wonder if this is symptomatic of that all-too American sense of pride, that feeling of being the at the center of it all. Today in a panel discussion, the Swedish Ambassador from HIV/AIDS talked about changing the paradigm, getting donor countries to ask for their seat at the table instead of constantly looking to bring the table to them. It might be a bit lost in translation, but it might also be the sort of attitude we should be pushing the US to take.
blog comments powered by Disqus