When Nkosi Johnson, a 11 year old boy gave the keynote speech at the 13th International AIDS Conference (Durban, 2000) he was one of the first young people to speak at the IAC. He encouraged people living with HIV to be open about the disease and to seek equal treatment. Nkosi finished his speech with the words:
“Care for us and accept us — we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else — don’t be afraid of us — we are all the same!”
The then Prime Minister of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, left part-way through Nkosi’s speech unmoved by his pleas to the government to give AZT to pregnant women – let alone even attempt to provide treatment to all South Africans. Nkosi died only a year later and even for Nkosi, treatment was not available until 3 months before he died.
However, despite huge progress in the fight against the epidemic, young people are still disproportionately affected by HIV. While there has been a movement around youth-led inclusion and engagement at the IAC, more can and should be done. There are 4 reasons why the conference needs a strong and vibrant youth involvement:
Young people are hit hardest by HIV
Young people are the solution
Young people are leaders
It’s time to connect.
So, what is being planned and how can you get involved?
There are two pre-conferences that might be of interest. A Youth pre-conference is being organized by the Amsterdam Youth Force and Y+. Happening from the Friday evening (the 20th of July) to the Sunday evening (the 22nd) this is NOT an official pre-conference. For information and registration details go here. The Amsterdam Youth Force is also looking for offers of support to enable people to attend; this includes hosting people attending the conference by giving them a place to sleep.
Live in Amsterdam (preferably not more than 30 min away by public transport)
Are willing to host a volunteer at his/her home for the period of 19th-27th July 2018
Can answer questions and concerns encountered by volunteers
If you can help, more information is available here.
If you want to contribute financially to support this initiative there is a GoFundMe page. There is also a Facebook page for breaking news and developments.
The Men who have sex with Men Global Forum on HIV/AIDS (MSMGF) is also having an unofficial one-day pre-conference on Sunday July 22nd at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. It is planned to be an ‘interactive youth-led event centered around generating and refining innovative, community-led solutions for the sexual health and rights of young gay and bisexual men’. Read more and register here.
In the Global Village
As always, there is expected to be a BIG youth presence as part of the Global Village. There will be a formal Youth Pavilion, which acts as the main networking area for young people. It is a space to host youth-led and youth-related meetings and forums, showcase achievements of young people, facilitate networking opportunities, engage participants in dialogue, and build on the momentum from the youth pre-conference. Aside from the Pavilion, in the Global Village there will be cultural activities with youth centered/led activities, booths of youth led organizations and young people and youth in networking zones. (Note: Networking Zones are relatively large and open spaces in the Village, often with presentations and their own mini-programme of events as well as being a place to network.)
In the abstract driven sessions
It is always difficult to assess whether the conference programme reflects the right proportion of presentations and posters, on any one issue, or speakers from any one group. But when I see the programme and listen to the speakers I will be keeping graphics such as these in mind in relation to youth issues and their prominence. Finding specific presentation on youth in the conference programme will be possible via the on-line conference planner, as well as a Youth Roadmap that will be available closer to the conference.
Speaking on the subject of ‘Leaving no one behind: A call to action’ will be Yana Panfilova. You can find more about her in Ukrainian with an English text here. Yana was also the GNP+ 2017 Y+ READY Fellow and was interviewed here.
By the end of the conference, it will be obvious if youth-related issues have been given sufficient prominence within the conference. Every adult ally, organization and network needs to continue to live up to the commitments we all share in supporting young people. We all need to continue to make room and support young people both at the International AIDS Conference and in our own communities.
In closing – lest we forget
In my last blog I wrote about the Bangkok Conference in 2004, mentioning that it was the first conference with a full-fledged community space (‘Global Village’). Comments on the blog have prompted me to provide the official conference evaluation report and remember four activists from the region no longer with us – three Killed by AIDS.
Andrew Hunter was at the conference in Amsterdam in 1992 and at the 2004 conference. He died in December 2013 – an extraordinary man who you can find more about here including a video clip.
Jack Singh was also at the Amsterdam 1992 conference and died in 2013. Charismatic, passionate and defiant, he was one of the first Malaysians to come out as HIV positive and set up many initiatives in his country, the region, and internationally. There is more about him here.
Suzana Murni was one of the first Indonesian women who was public about their HIV status. Diagnosed in 1995 she achieved much before her death in 2001. She was unable to afford medications early on and then, when they became more available, it was just too late. More of her story is here.
Shivnanda Khan was the founder of many an organization and initiatives. Shiv was one of the great leaders in the fight against HIV, especially among the MSM and transgender communities. In his own charismatic and charming way, he dared to talk about and discuss subjects that were considered taboo or inappropriate. He died in 2013 and an interview with him from 2006 can be read here.
Of course, there are many heroes in the response from the region – these are just four from my memory.