It is time for the young generation, the youth to be heard and given a platform to be actually meaningfully engaged without being patronised. We don’t want to be on the sidelines and stuck to corners says Anukriti Singh
Being a person from the Global South, my first milestone at the AIDS 2022 conference was to get a visa and reach Montreal. The visa process was tedious, we had to spend plenty of time and hundreds of dollars on the application just to have our voices heard. I still wonder about the empty booths in the Global Village (GV) and the empty seats at plenary sessions, all those missing voices could have imparted so much more knowledge and added further value to the conference.
It also made me think of my country. In India, there is currently an antiretroviral (ARV) drug stockout and activists have been protesting at the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) office. At a time when people can’t afford treatment if it isn’t generic or provided by the government, how can they pay for the visa application?
The communities are underfunded and having such critical conferences in the Global North is not helping. The communities do not need more discrimination in the form of processes and experiences where they will be judged for where they come from or their TB/HIV status – and in the end, denied opportunities.
Even throughout the conference, I felt guilty for being physically present when my remarkable peers and colleagues were not able to. I channelled that energy to let everyone know ‘time is up’ by joining fellow activists in protesting against the Canadian government during the opening session, and in front of the Canadian government booth at the exhibition area. I believe in the cause that people from Low and Low Middle-Income Countries are key yet vulnerable and should have been represented at the conference.
On the first day of the conference, out of 54 sessions, only four touched on the topic of young people and only one was truly youth-led. On the second day, there were three sessions out of 47 that focused on youth; one out of 46 on the third day; three out of 46 on the next; and three sessions out of 33 on the last day. There was a moment of realisation, youth are still not taken seriously and are seen as leaders of tomorrow more than of the present.
Young people are most vulnerable to HIV and will be directly affected by the decisions we make today. However, they are still struggling to get a seat at the larger table.
There were many awesome acronyms for everything like MAYE which stands for meaningful adolescent and youth engagement used at the event. However, my question is—what is happening other than coming up with these acronyms? Providing some tokenistic opportunities and platforms? Asking young people to do flash mobs? That is not the solution!
it is time for the young generation, the youth to be heard and given a platform to be actually meaningfully engaged without being patronised. We don’t want to be on the sidelines and stuck to corners.
That being said, there was a common ask from all communities, civil society and organisations from diverse locations and ages for a fully resourced Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund). Even as the AIDS 2022 conference was happening in Canada, Canada hadn’t pledged yet. We expected them to pledge – but our hopes and demands were met with silence.
The Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos showed up at the Global Village on the last day unannounced. When asked to speak at the People Living With HIV (PLHIV) networking Zone he happily took the mic and gave a short impromptu address; but when he was done and asked to listen to PLHIV, he had no time and left.
Considering the Seventh Replenishment is just a few weeks away, we all need to step up and #FightForWhatCounts and raise 18 billion USD to – end health inequity; support the people and communities, and save 20 million lives. The fact that the governments are waiting until the last minute to pledge to the Global Fund is concerning.
The #GenEndIt Youth Steering Group plans to convene and support young people in donor and emerging donor countries to drive change on the reprioritisation of global HIV and AIDS, because, for anyone who has forgotten – AIDS IS NOT OVER!
As a young person attending the conference for the first time, I am grateful for the full scholarship provided to me by the International AIDS Society. The conference in itself was a roller coaster of feelings, from being overwhelmed by seeing so many people together after the COVID-19 pandemic, to feeling sadness of not being able to see so many people anymore on the last day.
Anukriti Singh is based in New Delhi, India and currently works as the Communications and Media Officer at Global Fund Advocates Network Asia-Pacific (GFAN AP). She is a curious and creative person usually filled with questions and ideas, is passionate about human rights, public health, and gender & sexual equality and holds a degree in Sociology. She has prior experience as a freelance journalist for South Asian Insider, followed by the start of her endeavour in public health at Evidence Action, India where she worked at national level health programs.