Written by Andrew Ocero, Director of Clinical Services, JSI/NUMAT
Finally, America here we are! In jumbo jet planes we came! KLM, the Dutch air carrier that brought us to Washington, D.C. for the AIDS 2012 Conference, was forced to switch to a larger plane to accommodate the multitude of people that came from all corners of planet Earth, harkening America’s call for people of all walks of life to come together in an effort to turn the tide against the HIV pandemic .
Delegates visiting the United States for the first time, I imagine, were not anticipating many surprises. For over a century the USA has been well marketed around the world through the arts, through great stories of heroism and science. However there was a disturbing revelation during the opening event. Phil Wilson, founder of the Black AIDS Institute, described how in this land of plenty, a bastion of justice and opportunity, the needs of people affected and infected by HIV had somehow lagged behind. The first comprehensive US National HIV/AIDS Strategy was launched just two years ago. The Affordable Care Act that finally guaranteed care and treatment for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions is also a recent development.
It is only now that HIV positive Americans can access equitable quality health care – thanks to activists representing racial and sexual minorities across the United States. The stupendous work of these activists is often what kept HIV on the agenda in Washington. Their work was a key linchpin of the understanding and compassion created in the hearts of the American taxpayers. Apparently, it is these American thatalso threw out the lifeline to the people in sub-Saharan Africa so desperately afflicted by AIDS.
A lesson should be learnt! Governments across sub Saharan Africa need to respond to the needs of all people infected and affected by HIV. Stigma and discrimination in its various forms leaves a significant group of HIV positive people living in the shadows and unattended to. The wave of new HIV infections could be tackled, in part, by addressing the particular needs of special groups. These would include sexual minorities and rural women. It should also include the expanding middle class and professionals like teachers and health workers that are significantly afflicted by HIV, but due to various forms of stigma and discrimination prefer to access care surreptitiously. Together we will turn the tide against HIV!