Jai NicAllen is an activist with Youth Stop AIDS and has recently attended the AIDS2016 Conference in Durban, South Africa. In this piece they outline the three things they learnt from the experience.
I just returned from the AIDS2016 conference in South Africa. This was an incredible (and exhausting!) week of activism, networking, and learning. Here are three of the things I learnt during my adventures:
- The UK needs to up its game
Being sent to a global conference a few weeks after Brexit was embarrassing. Literally – “brexit” has become international slang for when someone does something ridiculously stupid that completely shoots themselves in the foot.
Britain likes to present itself as a progressive, economically strong nation which sets a global example of democracy, human rights, and healthcare – a “global key player” in the words of our pro-Brexit MPs. But this conference highlighted our growing irrelevance – this rise in isolationist politics could easily see us simply left behind while the rest of the world moves towards a more equitable, more connected future.
As activists, we must prioritise not only ensuring HIV services in the UK are maintained and scaled up (we still have unacceptably high infection rates in key populations here!), and also that we remain accountable and connected to the rest of the world.
- We are living in scary times
Throughout the conference, there was a sense that things are tough, and getting tougher. The rise of UKIP in the UK is mirrored by the rise of Trump in the US and the rise of far-right parties across Europe. No corner of the globe is unafraid or unaffected by this surge in far-right populism.
And HIV/AIDS services are one of the first casualties – wherever you look and whoever you talk to, our funding is being cut. We are losing valuable services. Many people are losing their jobs, as organisations are being forced to downsize and pick and choose which services to continue providing. Too often, HIV/AIDS misses the cut when these decisions are made, but HIV/AIDS is still a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Millions of people are dying of HIV, unable to access treatment because the system still prioritises profit over people, or because they belong to a community that is criminalised or marginalised. StopAIDS’ new campaign is designed to remind politicians, legislators, and funding bodies that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over – a message that feels all the more important to me now that I can put it in a global context.
We have made incredible progress since the first HIV infection, and have accomplished things that must have seemed impossible in the 80s and 90s. Now, so much of what has been achieved is under threat and we cannot allow these political changes to destroy what we have worked for.
- We are part of a global movement
We are part of a global community of people fighting to end AIDS. As a community, we know exactly what we need to do. We need to restructure the system so that medications are available and accessible to those who need them. We need to decriminalise key populations, so that the most vulnerable groups (sex workers, trans people, men who have sex with men, and drug users) can access healthcare and support. We need to provide safer sex resources, decent and inclusive sex education, and ensure that human rights are protected and defended.
In the UK, it can easily feel as though we aren’t making any real changes. We spend a lot of time and energy on very specific aspects of legislation, or on minor policy details. We can run campaigns or attend meetings, and then wait two or three years before finding out if they were successful. It can feel like we are obsessing over (or drowning in!) bureaucracy while people are dying. But actually, we are part of a vast, complicated movement towards the end of AIDS and this movement is achieving incredible things. The end of AIDS is still a viable possibility: we just need to get there.