ACORD at the International AIDS Conference

The 2010 International AIDS Conference took place in Vienna, Austria from 18-23 July and a team from ACORD are attended. Below are some updates:

Thursday 22 July 2010

'Only rights will fix the wrongs' - sex workers' association banner

From the exhibition booths and posters, I noted that ACORD's Rwanda programme on HIV and AIDS must better assess the issues of most at risk populations (MARPs). Many studies across the world showed that there is a need to integrate men who have sex with men (MSM) and sex workers in the fight against HIV. Stakeholders involved in the work with those groups must be supported. Sexual minorities are still facing stigma and discrimination and they are claiming their rights.

I thank ACORD for having supported our attendance to the IAC. I learnt a lot that is going to improve our programming, mostly in the advocacy area.

Rights here, right now!

Fortunée Twiyubahe, ACORD Rwanda

Wednesday 21 July 2010 - HIV and hunger

On Wednesday ACORD held a workshop on the interlinkages between hunger and HIV, led by Annette. It's not a topic much touched upon and it drew an interested audience - one of whom commented that it was one of the only events in the whole conference to truly look at HIV in a development context. It is a topic that needs greater attention, and at the end of the workshop there was general discussion on the need to advocate on the issue at all levels from local to global.

HIV and hunger form a vicious circle. HIV damages the bodies ability to absorb nutrients thus requiring more food of better nutrition, whilst at the same time once the HIV is symptomatic it will often limit a person's ability to earn a living. Hunger weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infection from the virus to start with, and then less able to fight off the progression of the disease or the opportunistic infections. Hunger can also drive high-risk behaviour, including transactional sex, and force people to migrate for work which is also associated with higher risk of HIV infection.

ACORD carried out studies in communities in five countries, to look in more detail at how these interconnections were playing out in practice and whether people were able to cope with the double burden of HIV and hunger. The team here in Vienna included three people who had been working on these studies and they talked about findings in their countries - Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Alice Harushimana speaking about Burundi

Each country had its own particular situation. In Burundi the whole country is working through the aftermath of civil war, with continuing latent conflict and instability. Alice emphasised that there is much greater benefit and potential in including people living with HIV in broader development programmes rather than just providing direct assistance. As part of a broader programme, people living with HIV are able to work with government, NGOs and others to advocate for food sovereignty and the rights of people living with HIV, leading to more sustainable changes.

In Ethiopia the study was done in the area on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa. It is an area with high levels of unemployment and poverty. It also has a big sex work industry. Ethiopia has a policy on food security in place, but it is focussed on rural poverty with much less attention paid to urban settings. The policy also lacks adequate strategies to provide for the needs of people living with HIV. In order cope, many people spoke of having to use up any savings they may have had and even then to have to sell all their assets - tv, tables, chairs, beds, household utensils - simply in order to survive. Kassech highlighted that stigma is still a big problem despite some reduction in levels - people in the study spoke of losing jobs or being forced to leave their homes when their status became known. 

The study in Uganda was done in the north, which is also a post-conflict situation. People who had been forced to move into camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) are now returning home, but this has brought its own problems. For decades people have had to depend upon rations from the World Food Programme and others, but these have come to an end and people have nothing to support them as they try to restart farming and grow their first crops. This situation is being made worse by many land disputes which have arisen because people have been twenty years away from home, memories have faded and boundary markers are no longer in place. While the dispute waits to be settled, no-one can access the land and for people weakened by the virus this extra delay is particularly serious. Like Kassech, Dennis also emphasised the continuing impact of stigma, saying it might be surprising, in a country like Uganda which is known for its good work on HIV, but it seems that the successes which there have been in overcoming stigma have not gone far enough.

Dennis Nduhura speaking about Uganda

In general the studies found that there is a lack of connection between HIV policies & programmes and food security ones, not only within government but also within international organisations and civil society. There is a need for greater integration of the two. HIV programmes need to incorporate food security provisions. This does not mean just short-term direct food assistance, although this can be crucial and has its place. However this needs to lead into long-term food security strategies, which could include building capacity of people living with HIV,  tools, seeds, and support in labour-saving techniques in farming that make it easier for sick people to manage. This last was something people in the audience were interested to know more about. Two examples that ACORD has used were

  • groups of people living with HIV acquired an oxen and plough that they could all use rather than using hand-hoes which require huge amounts of energy
  • adopting a 'kitchen garden' style of farming with a mix of vegetable crops that require less labour and have a shorter growing cycle 

Within food security institutions, there is equally need for a greater understanding of the situation and particular needs of people living with HIV. A recommendation from the studies is for governments and other to recruit and train people living with HIV to fill some key roles within food security programmes, so as to benefit from their perspective. 

Formulation of policies and programmes is only part of the story however. Policies need to be implemented and, as ever, funding is key. If governments want us to believe they are truly committed to tackling both hunger and HIV, then they need to show us the money! It is now seven years since African governments promised to increase investment in both health and agriculture in the Maputo declarations of 2003. They committed themselves to investing 10% of national budgets in agriculture and 15% in health services. Both these promises need to be kept, and civil society must pressure governments not to slide away from their commitments. Most governments have not met the target levels. Some claim to have done so, but again it is essential that civil society is able to review whether this is true quality investment focussed on real needs. 

All of this is vital and necessary, but ACORD believes it is not enough. We also need to address the politics of food and bridge the gap that exists in many civil society groups between those who work on HIV and those who work on food sovereignty. Remember it is not just HIV that is intensifying hunger; it is also hunger that is heightening vulnerability to HIV. And hunger for the rural majority in Africa is being driven by many factors including:

  • lack of support for smallholder farmers
  • unfair trade
  • gender inequity
  • land rights, especially for women
  • absence of social security safety nets

Donor governments and institutions also need to wake up to the linkages between HIV and hunger, and support Africa in the struggle to achieve both the right to food and the right to health. We will never achieve the Millennium Development Goals and universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care & support unless we address the right to food of people living with HIV and AIDS - Rights Here, Rights NOW.

For more information, read the full presentation

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Condom shaped hot air ballonRights here!! Right now

The International AIDS Conference’s focus is on ensuring Universal Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.  It is true that to date significant gains have been made in taking action against HIV and AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa. There is a general reduction in HIV prevalence rates, and now around a third of people in developing countries needing treatment are receiving it. This is 5.2 million, which is an amazing achievement.

But… Universal Access is not about 33% coverage, it is about 100% coverage. It means access to everyone for HIV services regardless of their economic standing, gender, race or anything else.

The current global economic crisis and the flattening out or even reduction of funding by many governments is a big threat to the gains that have been made so far.  The current economic challenges that we all have should not be a barrier to continuing scaling up HIV prevention and treatment for all who need it.  There has been anger here from activists who see a retreat. This is not the time to retreat: 

  • it is the time to scale up all our efforts to support People Living with or Affected by HIV and AIDS with their prevention needs, 
  • it is the time to reinforce policies and programs that recognize  and respect the needs of PLHA. 
  • it is the time to scale up our work  to address the social inequalities that drive the epidemic; Poverty, gender inequality, food insecurity, stigma and discrimination - and specifically discrimination of sexual minorities, 

As ACORD we need to reinforce our work with People Living with HIV for universal access. This means ensuring right to information, right to effective prevention services, right to treatment, care and support.  

Annette Msabeni-Ngoye, ACORD secretariat

The word Condomise

A mosaic of condoms at UNFPA's stall in the Global Village

La conférence internationale sur le sida 2010 un espace d’évaluation et de réflexion pour l’avenir 

J’ai découvert beaucoup de réalités sur le monde des LGBTI (lesbienne, gay, bisexuel(le), transsexuel(le), transgenre et/ou intersexué(e)). Un monde en quête de droits et de dignité. 

Je crois que leurs droits ne sont pas assez respectés et qu'il n'y a pas assez d’espace pour eux parce que tout simplement on ne connaît pas assez leurs difficultés et leurs souffrances.

La conférence m’en a appris beaucoup. 

J’attends impatiemment la session sur les droits sexuels avec Oxfam International. L’outil qu’il a développé nous aidera dans la compréhension et le plaidoyer sur l’acceptation, la prévention et la prise en charge du VIH en faveur des LGBTI.

Rights here, right now ! 

Alice Harushimana, ACORD Burundi

We launched the booklet, Break another silence: understanding sexual minorities and taking action for sexual rights in Africa at the IAC on 20 July 2010. This is produced by JOHMET (Joint Oxfam HIV and AIDS Mainstreaming programme) in which ACORD is a partner. The launching session has been honoured by the Executive Director of Oxfam Ireland and the star Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

As someone who has supported the idea of having a such booklet in the JOHMET programme and beyond, I got an opportunity to share my own experience as African woman from my first contact with sexual minorities in 2008 up to now. It is has been a wonderful opportunity for African people to talk about the sexual minorities issues openly.

I met the whole Oxfam delegation and both shared and heard about the Oxfam’s global work around the theme of HIV and AIDS. Oxfam International has a strong commitment on HIV and they have engaged to do a big effort in advocacy for HIV and AIDS funding. I really appreciated learning about the advocacy tool used by ARASA (AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa) for funding around some African president.

As a member of the international platform on female condoms, I was able to talk with staff from UAFC (Universal Access to the Female Condom face to face and I got more information on the new issues around the female condom from their session. I also took part of the march for the universal access to female condom now.

From the SAN (Stop AIDS Now) booth, I got some documentation on managing HIV in the workplace.

A lesson that I take from the conference is that we need to document our work more.

Fortunée Twiyubahe, ACORD Rwanda

decorated tree

'East-West wish tree'

Let me say a little on the atmosphere here. The conference venue is on an underground line. Even when I get on the train, across the other side of the city centre, I can usually see one or two people wearing an IAC badge or carrying the red bag we were all given when we registered. As we get closer to the venue, more and more of the people on the train are coming to the IAC, and people smile at each other and say hello. Yesterday I talked with two women from Russia about work that they are doing. They were sitting across the carriage from me, so we were talking loudly above the noise of the train, about HIV and condoms and drug users - things you would normally feel a bit embarrassed to be so public about, but it felt perfectly comfortable and natural.

I realise that we are not just talking about our advocacy, we are doing it. We are breaking the silence, undermining the stigma… for a moment at least.

When the train reaches ‘Messe Prater’, the stop for the conference, almost everyone gets off. A trainload of people fill the platform, and there is a buzz of conversation as everybody heads out. It fills you with energy and hope. There are around 20,000 people here. For someone like me in a small office, it is wonderful to be reminded that there are so many others all working toward the same basic aims and it restores a sense that we can achieve something despite the overwhelming statistics about the virus.

Free food at the IAC

On a very prosaic last note, the City of Vienna is wonderfully running a stall with free food and drink in one corner of the ‘Global Village’. I am very grateful to the hardworking staff of the stall for several reviving glasses of multivitamin juice!

Jean Blaylock, ACORD secretariat

  • access to medicines
  • burundi
  • ethiopia
  • hiv and aids
  • hiv in the workplace
  • human rights
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  • uganda