By: Ravicka Phillip, World YWCA intern 2010
The International AIDS Conference is the first conference dedicated to HIV and AIDS that I’ve attended. Going into the conference, though I was briefed, I was still a bit uncertain of what really will come from such a meeting or what the experience will be like. Now that I’ve gotten the experience I feel more informed about certain issues, but at the same time I also feel that I have many questions.
My participation at this conference has made me realise how the HIV pandemic has brought a lot of issues to the forefront that cross both social and in some cases moral boundaries. It has left me wondering what is really needed to bring an end to this pandemic and to curve the spread of the virus. Is it the church that is responsible, is it the donors or is it the responsibility of infected and affected persons. The conference has also made me realise that there is a lot of blame being passed from different groups, whereas to me it seemed as though everyone had a common goal but may have just been taking different routes to get there. It has also motivated me to do some research relating to my country, Grenada, as certain questions aroused while I participated to some sessions and I realised I didn’t have an answer. For example, how accessible are ARVs for people living with HIV and what are the laws relating to criminalisation.
The most interesting session that I attended was “Gender Discrimination: Sex and Stigma.” This was the very first session that I attended and I thought it was very informative and lived up to the expectations one may have had before attending the session. I learnt about the “The People Living with HIV Stigma Index,” a tool which is used to measure stigma and also detect trends relating to stigma and discrimination while showing the barriers and issues which cause stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV (PLWH) to continue.
It was also good that one of the first countries to use the Index, the Dominican Republic was from my region and though they speak a different language and their cultural norms may vary, the issues presented from the findings reflected issues that are common to many of the Islands within the Caribbean including my own. These included discrimination by health care providers, forced sterilization and women living with HIV being told that they shouldn’t get pregnant. Gender based violence, though not a component of the stigma index, also came up and it was thought that it should be included in the index as it contributes to stigma and discrimination against HIV positive women. Some of the other issues brought to the spotlight included the need for further education with regards to the empowerment of women and informing them about their reproductive rights. Also, educating the health care providers so as to guarantee their understanding and acknowledgement of the reproductive rights of women, especially those who are living with HIV, and to have mechanisms in place to monitor services for PLWH.
I was happy that Grenada had a great representation at the conference and I got to meet the team, including the Minister of Health. Though no formal partnerships were formed I think that the fact that we were all present at the AIDS conference and met creates a potential to work together in the future.
Coming from this conference I would like to continue working with the HIV and AIDS committee of the YWCA of Grenada to do some revisions of the programmes and messages that we presently use, incorporating the knowledge gained, and building collaborations with other organisations.