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International AIDS Conference around the Corner

Posted 20 juillet 2014, 10:21 , by Guest

By Susan Paxton, HIV Consultant at Positive Response

After two years of planning and preparation, the International AIDS Conference is around the corner.  The International Community of Women living with HIV [ICW] has several dynamic women presenting at; plenary sessions, symposia, workshops and the cultural program.  The Women's Networking Zone [WNZ], a space open to the public, will have an exciting program of presentations by speakers, from every corner of the globe, addressing access to treatments and services, sexual and reproductive rights, discrimination and violence, and criminalization and justice.

Young women living with HIV will address both the opening and closing plenaries, with Ayu Oktariani from Indonesia, backed by thirty people from the Asia-Pacific region in traditional dress, welcoming delegates on behalf of the community, and Violent Banda from Malawi, a young woman born with HIV, taking the banner for the community onto the next conference in Durban in 2016.

More women living with HIV are presenting in plenary sessions than ever before, including Dr. Lydia Mungahera from Uganda who works with pregnant women and runs the award winning "Mama's Club"; Jennifer Gatsi from Namibia, who works with women fighting to stop coerced sterilization of women living with HIV and who have successfully challenged the Namibian government in court; L'Orangelis Thomas Negron from Puerto Rico, a young woman born with HIV who developed a blog called "Ovaries of Steel".  

Throughout the week women from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe and the Americas will look at the intersections between violence and HIV, address rights violations within healthcare contexts, and put forward strategies to change the face of HIV.

ICW will have a "Community Dialogue" with WHO about guidelines to put all pregnant women on ARVs when diagnosed.  "Option B+" has been taken up in many countries but we now see that women who start ARVs during pregnancy are five times more likely to be lost to follow-up.  What seemed like a good idea backfired.  Women are afraid to be found to be positive by partners or family members and face subsequent violence.  ICW are advocating for women living with HIV to be trained as counsellors and placed in every antenatal clinic where significant numbers of pregnant women are diagnosed as HIV-positive, as a real strategy to stop self-stigma and improve appropriate ARV uptake. 

It has been a privilege working towards AIDS 2014 to ensure the voices of women are strongly embedded within the program. Sadly the number of women living with HIV who received scholarships to attend the conference is low, with less than a dozen women fully funded by the IAC, and a similar number supported by various UN agencies.  ICW was also successful in developing a scholarship program that has enabled us to provide two international and four regional full scholarships for women living with HIV.

The saving grace may be that this conference, held in the middle of Melbourne's winter, will be more virtual than ever before, so otherwise potential delegates can watch sessions within 24 hours on the internet in the comfort of a warmer climate, without risk of catching a virus!