KENNETH MWEHONGE (Uganda) writes:
#AIDS2016 has been a marvelous experience for me – being around very passionate fellow activists, advocates, researchers, innovative scientists, donors and decision makers for five days is a very rare opportunity. I have also been mesmerized by infrastructure and beautiful coastlines around Durban. At the same time, I have been utterly perturbed by beggars’ and homeless poor people sleeping on the streets of Durban.
For five days in Durban, we shared ideas, strategies, tactics and tools to use for ending HIV/AIDS epidemic and bridging the treatment gap of 20 million people currently in need of treatment globally. Scientists are working day and night for to come up with an HIV vaccine and a cure, and I learned at the conference that big strides have been made. However, one gap seems to getting wider and wider – POVERTY!! I am talking of the gap between the poor and the rich.
On the second day of my stay in Durban I decided to walk from my hotel in South Beach to the International Convention Centre (ICC). I saw three people at different points wrapped in plastic paper sleeping on the cold floors of the streets of Durban. I was in disbelief and was gravely shocked given the apparent level of development in South Africa, compared to my homeland in Uganda. On the same day I went to a nearby mall to have lunch and a young girl came to the table I was seated begging for food. She said, “Please don’t give me money but just give me something to eat.” She looked so hungry and desperate. Outside the mall, near the Gugu Dlamini Park, were several women and children also begging for food. I’ve seen poverty, and, and trust me, I saw it written all over their faces! And all through the week, as the long days came to an end and we rode in buses home or walked in the streets, similar faces kept coming up. It was so painful for me to take in, and it got me thinking that maybe there are far more pressing needs we need to address for the lay man, woman and child walking on the street first before talking of the ending AIDS. Poverty is definitely a key determinant of ending the epidemic yet not much attention is given to addressing poverty. I barely heard any speakers talk about it. What I saw in those few days in Durban tells me that we’re not going nowhere if poverty is not addressed.