Monday, August 6, 2012
AIDS 2012 ‘Turning the Tide Together’
My Impressions of the 19th International AIDS World AIDS Conference in Washington, DC
By Kathi Winter, an HIV + Christian Woman
Special to ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- My initial impressions from attending the first International AIDS conference being held in the U.S. after sixteen years of visa restrictions on overseas visitors living with HIV was, in one word, overwhelming.
There were at least ten sessions I wanted to attend at any given hour and was thrilled at the level of expertise presenting all the most updated information on prevention and treatment of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
I wanted to be everywhere, but particularly in the press conferences held, where the day’s events were summarized and experts in the field answered questions from the press. So I ran between the Media Center and the Global AIDS Village, which was another first at this conference which was open to the General Public. With public access, there were many groups demonstrating their free speech rights to demand free medications and representation.
Most of the time I was an exhibitor in the booth for He Intends Victory, (H.I.V.), a Christian worldwide outreach to those infected and affected with or by HIV/AIDS. This ministry is over 20 years old, and helped me not to walk away from my Christianity, encouraging me to grow in my faith. When I was first infected, I feared God was mad at me. In their support groups I was taught love and self-forgiveness with repentance; for this I will be eternally grateful.
So what did I learn and experience at this International event? I would use the word AWESOME to describe the entire Conference. The extensive program covered scientific breakthroughs and newly discovered data about inventions like the vaginal ARV Ring to prevent HIV in women funded by NIH in conjunction with the International Partnership for Microbicide’s (IPM).
Also, the latest information was presented on social and cultural effects on the issues surrounding HIV, i.e. the criminalization of HIV or how Stigma is a fueling agent to avoidance of getting tested. The topics were endless and for one who has lived with HIV for over seventeen years, I was in blessed to hear the positive attitudes from the scientific community along with the faith-based organizations. “New Hope in Fighting AIDS” was a headline in the Washington Times.
Keynote speakers such as Hillary and Bill Clinton, and Barbara Lee (D,CA) used the new political terminology the “possibility of an AIDs Free Generation.” While I found this exciting, my reaction wasn’t that positive as I serve in Africa with various AIDS clinics- too many HIV+ people have yet to even receive their first set of drugs.
I found the Conference to represent nearly every aspect of society, a true blend of efforts from the political will to celebrity spokespersons, to IV drug users and sex workers. Most all had something to say about HIV and its effect on Health, Education, Employment, Family life, and of course, Faith. Sadly, of the more than 183 educational sessions, there were only 3 that I could find that addressed the role of Faith.
I was pleased to recognize many Congressmen and Senators actively engaged in presentations and discussions. There was a divide between Democrats and Republicans, each taking credit for the many advances in the last 4-8 years because of PEPFARR: monies originally committed by President George W. Bush, who received bi-partisan acknowledgement at the Conference. PEPFARR was re-funded by President Obama, and the current Congress.
Many voices from Capitol Hill were on one of two panels at the four- hour forum held Wed., July 25 along with overseas dignitaries and role models within the Christians churches in areas hard hit by this disease, i.e. Zambia, and Malawi. Truly this event was THE talked-about forum of the entire conference amongst the faith- based organizations. Unfortunately the general media didn’t cover this news. The people of the World did not get to hear about the role of the church in behavior change, and the effect the church has had on HIV prevention.
Besides the medical breakthroughs, like treatment as prevention (early delivery of HIV medications immediately to those infected) and new medicines in the pipeline for empowering the immune systems of those infected, these were just some of the things I heard that were quite impressive:
“By the year 2015, over 50% of the World’s HIV + population will be over fifty years old.” Spoke at the “Graying of HIV” session 7.23.12.
“We must practice living with co-disturbance”, according to Rick Warren, and find a way to set aside our differences with segments of the population whose values are at odds with our Christian values, while joining in agreement with them for the sole effort of stopping AIDS. Pastor Rick asked Elton John specifically if he wanted to stop AIDS. The answer was yes, and Pastor Rick said then “so we can work together.”
“There is a rise in speaking out by the Gay/Lesbian community in Africa.”
The church has ostracized this group who now won’t attend church in many countries, i.e. Uganda, according to one HIV+ doctor who spoke on a panel about their voices being heard in a country that discriminates. This was something new to the Conference.
I am available for comment at email@example.com or by phone at 714-356-5673. With the love of God I will be attending the 2014 AIDS Conference in Rio and invite other HIV+ Christians to join me there to share God’s love and grace to all. The next Conference is an opportunity for more faith-based organizations to attend, exhibit and present. We need to be a voice for stopping HIV/AIDS in the entire world.
Note if you would like a free copy of Dan Wooding’s book called “He Intends Victory” or “In His Shadow” by Joan Yorba-Gray, please go to: http://heintendsvictory.org/free-books
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.