It has been said and proved time and again that HIV and AIDS are not solely medical problems but have deep social and economic links, consequences and implications. The Global Village, over the years, at AIDS conference has been the platform of communities, activists and practitioners representing diversity and solidarity. Put simply, it is the core of the conference.
The space provided for the AIDS 2012 Global Village is large. There are 90 countries participating with over 120 booths and a wide range of activities and information. UAIDS chief Michel Sidibe, describes it as the “real heart” of the conference and the space for the exchange of ideas. “The end of AIDS is not free, not expensive, but priceless, and to end it people’s connectivity and exchanges are crucial,” he said.
In the Global Village debates of all hues come to the fore and flourish. Some can turn into skirmishes as witnessed when Vincent Gray, Mayor of Columbia, the Washington district with the highest HIV prevalence, got up to speak. Before AIDS 2012 many would have not known the severity of the HIV epidemic in the US’s capital city. High prevalence rates and issues with people receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) remain a major challenge for the capital of the country that is leading the global HIV response. Mayor Gray promised a strong commitment on HIV prevention and care and announced the introduction of paid leave for government employees to get educated on the virus and to get tested. He shared the success of previous interventions on mother to child transmission, which means no child has been born with HIV in Washington DC since 2009. However, activists groups stood up in protest and the voices of “number don’t lie, governments do” echoed round the village.
The AIDS 2012 Global Village has some interesting sessions, networking zones and cultural events. The space also hosts networks and organizations whose concerns are often ignored. The Caregivers’ Action Network, which addresses HIV and ageing, is one such example. Similarly, the marketplace booths bring community based groups and organizations from around the world. Exchange of thoughts with these groups is truly enriching.
Positive stories of the progress made on reducing the pandemic are all around the conference. Along with the medical and research fraternity, the Global Village and its consortium of action groups deserves equal credit in these accomplishments. These groups’ role in the future of the HIV response will be vital too; the campaign to increase ART coverage to 15 million people from 8.75 by 2015, for example, will not succeed without them.
The AIDS 2012 conference theme of Turning the tide together recognizes the importance of collective action to tackle one of the most challenging public health crisis of all time. I expect those in the Global Village will be key players in turning the tide. It has always been thus in the history of AIDS pandemic.