This week, an estimated 25,000 individuals from across the globe who all work in one way or another on issues related to HIV will descend upon the fine city of Vienna for the XVIII International AIDS Conference.
The theme for this year’s event is ‘Rights Here, Right Now’, which refers to the connection between HIV and human rights.
How far have we come in meeting the needs of those affected by HIV in the past 25 years or so? Where is more work yet needed? How do national responses compare to one another? What success stories exist and how may they be adopted to other contexts? And, what human rights violations continue to undermine the responses to HIV, locally, nationally, regionally and globally?
These are a few of the questions that come to mind before the event. The first of those in particular has been on my mind lately.
I recently caught the Frontline special report from 2006, The Age of AIDS. This sobering documentary chronicles the early days of the epidemic in the US, and then provides an overview of the global epidemic. It is available to watch online, and I encourage everyone to spend the time doing so.
What struck me is that many of the same issues that plagued the responses in the early stages of the epidemic continue to undermine our work. Stigma, discrimination, drugs pricing policies and treatment availability, and a lack of basic information at times. Strong leadership along with political will and determination could remove and/or minimise these barriers. And, would go a long, long way in honouring the human rights of those living with and affected by HIV.
There is a moment in the documentary when Dr Jonathan Mann, one of the early pioneers in the response to the global pandemic, states, ‘It’s about basic equity, simple justice’. This short yet poignant declaration was in reference to addressing the stigma and discrimination and horrendous human suffering experienced by those who literally had no hope and faced certain death in the early stages of the epidemic.
It is still about equity. And, it is still about social justice more than 25 years on.
In the current economic climate, many programmes which have allowed millions of individuals who had no hope and were close to death access to live-saving treatments (which have improved their overall quality of life) will come to an end. As programmes lose vital funding from development aid programmes, the real tragedy is that individuals will suffer. Individuals will die. Most of those individuals will be those who live in lesser developed countries and have no where else to turn for assistance.
Is that fulfilling the commitment to universal human rights we have argued and fought for?
A peaceful demonstration will be held Sunday, 18 July, 17.
00–19.00, at the Vienna Conference Centre, to coincide with the opening ceremony. Governments across across the globe have failed to fulfill their commitments to fund AIDS treatment and other health needs.
And, they must be held to account.
I for one will join others in Vienna to protest the broken promises and threat to upholding the human rights of those affected by the epidemic on Sunday, 18 July. I will be there not for my own rights, but for those who have no other voice. I will be there for those who are not in Vienna.