On World AIDS Day 2018

Red AIDS ribbons concept tree. Vector illustration layered for easy manipulation and custom colouring.

This World AIDS Day, as with many in the past, I am hopeful. More cautiously optimistic than equally hopeful, however. Thirty years ago, the first World AIDS Day passed, allowing us to collectively raise our voices to raise awareness of HIV. Globally and locally.

This morning, as I scrolled through my news feed, in addition to the traditional AIDS red ribbon tree of life I’ve posted for years on this day, another image gut-punched me, just as it did the first time I saw it and every time since.

The men in white represent the surviving members of the original San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Eric Luse, 1993. 

This image of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus reminds me why this day isn’t so much a simple celebration of how far we’ve come, but of how vigilant we must remain in our resolve to continue to respond to this most pernicious virus. But, more so, we must resist and overcome the various prejudices and judgements attached to HIV. Far, far too many have died senseless, needless and agonising deaths only because we refused to act to prevent further infections, because we isolated and demonised those living with HIV, and because we refused access to live-saving and life-preserving treatment for those who desperately needed it. 

Why? 

Fight AIDS, not people affected or living with HIV. Fight the damn virus and the cultural, social, political and economic institutions which continue to allow it to spread and allow people to die when, today, they don’t need to. Fight the injustices borne through stigma and fear that allow the virus to flourish.

Do not fight the individuals most affected and least wanted by society.

HIV doesn’t care where you live, what you look like, what you do for a living to simply survive. Nor does it care who or how you love.

Today, and every day, we must collectively remember what inaction and isolation do to those affected when society shuns them and deems them unworthy and undesirable. Every. Single. Day.

So, on this World AIDS Day, here’s to all those affected and living with HIV, and here’s to all those who continue working damn hard and often thanklessly to ensure no one is left behind and that we can all live in a world more just and more equitable. For all. 

And, here’s to those we failed. Your memory lives on and you will not be forgotten. 

On World AIDS Day 2017

1 December every year is World AIDS Day.

This year’s theme is ‘My health, my right‘. That is, one’s right to health represents a fundamental human right, and one’s right to health encompasses and extends to rights to sanitation and housing, nutritious food, healthy working and living conditions, education and access to justice. All of which are accessible free from stigma and discrimination, and free of violence.

I may no longer devote much of my working life to issues surrounding HIV. But, I still very much believe in continuing to focus on the response to HIV and ensuring that no one is left behind in our local, national, regional and global responses to HIV and various other related issues.

On this World AIDS Day, much like each and everyone before it, my thoughts are with all those living with HIV first and foremost. My thoughts are also with those who have died far, far too young and long before they needed to. Their faces remain at the forefront of my mind on many days, but particularly today.

I also extend my thanks and gratitude to all of those who tirelessly continue to devote their voices, time and indefatigable energy to making sure others are not left behind. All those who work on HIV-related issues ensure that people living with HIV continue to receive the attention they need, at times desperately so. From activists to policy makers to aid workers to healthcare professionals, those working on HIV also ensure that those affected by HIV are placed at the centre of discussions on HIV policy, funding and programming, and highlight the necessity of inextricably linking access to health as but one fundamental human right.

Health. Gender equality. Freedom from harm. The freedom to make decisions about one’s health and one’s own life. Respect and dignity. These are but a few of the words which come to mind on each World AIDS Day. And, they represent a world we can look forward to, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Here’s to all those living with, affected by and responding to HIV. You deserve so much more than one day each year. You are worth so much more than one day on a calendar. May we collectively never forget your worth.

AIDS ribbon tree

‘Rights Here, Right Now!’

XVIII International AIDS Conference

The XVIII International AIDS Conference gets underway in Vienna this week.

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.

Broken Promises Kill: No reTREAT, Fund AIDS

A peaceful demonstration will urge governments and global leaders to honour their commitments to fund AIDS programmes

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.

Extra-ordinarily (un)common

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things which used to seem exceptionally extra-ordinary that have become rather banal and common.

What started this train of thought was the tragic story of a young man from the UK who summited Mount Everest but ultimately died on the mountain after suffering from blindness and not being able to climb down unaided. Rather than risk the lives of the entire team, he was left to die alone on the highest peak in the world.

Many have died there undoubtedly. But, what struck me was how many actually attempt to summit Everest each year now and how many of them die in the process. It seems to me that attempting a super-human feat such as summitting the highest peak on the planet should not be a goal undertaken by just anyone.

But another story of ordinary individuals attempting and succeeding in exta-ordinary feats also serves to inspire me.

Recently, several individuals from a South African-based organisation called Positive Heroes ran an 89-km marathon. What made this such an amazing tale is that all of the individuals are HIV-positive. Further, this was not their first time running the marathon and they’ve managed to incorporate the rigid routine of taking their anti-retrovirals during the marathon.

These are truly positive heroes. They demonstrate in an extra-ordinary way the amazing feats that ordinary individuals can aspire to and use as inspiration to others.

Congratulations to the ultra-marathon runners on their success and victory! And, many thanks for demonstrating the true meaning of extra-ordinary.