Jane Lennon, CAFOD’s HIV knowledge and Network Coordinator has just returned from the International AIDS conference in Vienna. She updates us on her journey.
Dr Maria Nannyonga and CAFOD's Ann Smith catch up by CAFOD's poster display
Given the amount of information packed in, the three days I spent at the International AIDS conference in Vienna somehow seemed longer. With around 20,000 attendees from all corners of the world and all walks of life, and the number of workshops, presentations and discussions, there was more than enough to take in. The conference was a full-on mix of information, presentations and updates on how we can best support people and communities in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
For me, one highlight was meeting colleagues from some of CAFOD’s partner organisations. I was greeted one lunchtime by Dr Maria Nannyonga, programme Director of Nsmabya Home Care programme in Uganda, which provides over 4000 people with ARV drugs. She’s been working there for over 20 years and is an experienced AIDS conference attendee, so I grabbed the chance to pick her brains about what she found most useful at this conference.
She was very interested in the new World Health Organisation guidelines for HIV and AIDS treatment, which recommend that starting treatment at an earlier stage of disease progression is more effective. But this is a challenge for Dr Nannyonga: her programme already has a long waiting list for the drugs.
I also met Sr Gaudiosa and Fr Victor Musendeki, CAFOD’s partners in Zimbabwe. Sr Gaudiosa was excited about this unique opportunity to learn about HIV and AIDS work in other regions. She’d been hearing about programmes in Central Europe to motivate and empower young people, and hoped to take back what she learned to the programmes she works on in Zimbabwe. Fr Victor felt there had been a friendlier attitude towards church institutions and groups here than at previous AIDS conferences which is hopefully a sign of faith and non-faith groups working together more to find the best solutions.
March and rally through the main streets of Vienna.
The challenge now will be how best to share the wealth of information from the conference with staff and partners. But as a reminder of how important that is, there was an evening march and rally through central Vienna. The conference theme was ‘human rights’, and the slogan ‘Rights Here, Right Now’ could be heard echoing round the square in front of the Royal Palace. The city of Vienna had really supported the conference and huge red ribbons could be seen on government and other buildings along the route of the march.
People living with and affected by HIV and AIDS gave moving and inspiring speeches, calling on governments to provide more funding to ensure human rights are upheld, especially for the poorest and most marginalised. This sentiment is at the heart of CAFOD’s work, especially as many people our partners support come from such a background. The night ended with singer Annie Lennox pledging her support for the fight against HIV and AIDS and performing some of her songs.
Sadly, UK media coverage of the conference was generally low. This is worrying if it reflects a general lack of interest in the UK. We must keep raising awareness and support for HIV and AIDS work. Otherwise, the Millennium Development Goals will not be met in many countries, and ‘Rights Here, Right Now’ will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.
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