KINGSLEY CHASANGA writes: I’m a newbie to the International AIDS Conference. I’ve followed the deliberations at previous conferences and always hoped that I would get the opportunity to attend one. So, I was excited when the opportunity came to attend AIDS 2016.
My excitement increased when I learned that the theme of this year’s conference was “Access Equity Rights Now”. It’s been quite informative to learn from different delegates, researchers, funders and advocates the progress we have made in the fight against HIV and AIDS globally. Also, a the commitment to focusing on fighting HIV in populations at the highest risk of HIV acquisition such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), sero-discordant couples and transgender people among others.
I come from Malawi, and one thing that stands for my country is its involvement in the various prevention and treatment studies that seek to contribute to the development of HIV/AIDS interventions such as microbicides, vaccines, treatment and others. In addition to this, my country has recently adopted the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets [of testing 90% of the population, putting 90% of those who test HIV positive on treatment, and ensuring that 90% of those of treatment end up with viral suppression]. We are also now rolling out test and treat [the concept of starting people who HIV positive on immediate antiretroviral treatment] and last year launched an ambitious viral load scale up plan.
However, what I have noted that’s missing in the conference is the meaningful involvement of some groups of people, especially the community at the grassroots level. All I have seen is the participation of the elite across all the sessions, such as panel discussions, poster presentations and facilitation.
I would have liked to see more community involvement because it would have been useful to hear lived experiences from the villages. So the questions that linger in my mind are: for whose benefit are these AIDS conferences? For how long will we continue to share experiences on behalf of people and not let them present their own experiences? Where are the grannies and young people who could be taking a lead in these conferences? I hope that someone will help me answer them!