The International AIDS Conference, also known to some as the AIDS Olympics is coming at us at lightning speed.
Once again, thousands of exhausted HIV activists will travel to AIDS 2018; working on insufficient airport WIFI and huddled around charging plugs trying to tie up loose ends on the flight over. Then the real frenzy of activities begins; with so many issue-specific pre-conferences and related events before the BIG ONE!
Over the last few International AIDS Conferences, I have heard grumblings from civil society and others about whether it’s all worth it. Networking zones, workshops, plenaries, bridging sessions, community booths, posters and performances abound, but is this the best way to use our shrinking resources in the HIV sector?
Some say no. And yet we’ll all be there again trying to make a mark in the global HIV architecture, trying to make a difference for our constituencies, youth, key populations, women and children, youth, displaced populations, immigrants, Indigenous Peoples and other hidden groups left behind in the response.
The International Indigenous HIV & AIDS Community (IIHAC), will be co-hosting the Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone and a Community Booth in the Global Village along with our partners, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), the Interagency Coalition on AIDS & Development (ICAD) and the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA).
IIWGHA and CAAN are hosting their 7th International Indigenous pre-conference on HIV & AIDS in Amsterdam with generous support from the Government of Canada. While the activities and sharing of data and lived experience is extremely valuable, it’s the connections with individuals in the background and on the sidelines of the conference that really connecting the dots for the Indigenous response to HIV. As the Interim Executive of IIHAC I have been feverishly struggling alongside my colleagues to get ready and live up to our critical role in advocating for the needs and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples the world over.
Simply attending an AIDS Conference has its benefits, but the opportunity lies in the ability to engage in a place where we can more easily approach key actors and introduce ourselves and our issues, the same people who are not able to answer the hundreds of emails they receive each day; a chance to practice our elevator pitches in real time.
Its the work between the IACs that really helps us to figure out the complicated bureaucracies and how they work together at various UN agencies and bodies, international NGOs, funders, academic institutions and all the international players. It’s also an opportunity to connect with different sectors of civil society, people living with HIV, key populations and to learn about the different groups breaking down barriers so that they are not left behind.
Yes, the International AIDS Conference is exhausting and it’s a lot of long nights and working weekends to get there. But, people are counting on us to bring their voices forward into the global conversation.
IIHAC will be trying to do exactly that: to facilitate Indigenous Peoples solidarity and strengthen the growth of an Indigenous-led response worldwide by providing reliable platforms for dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners about barriers, lessons learned, Indigenous realities and wise practices leading to the sharing of effective strategies and tactics such as approaches to community-based research mobilization, advocacy, and activism with Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
• Interim Executive Director, International Indigenous HIV & AIDS Community (IIHAC)
• Coordinator, International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
• Board member, Global Network of People living with HIV (GNP+)
• President, 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (Toronto, Canada)
• NGO Delegate, North America, UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board