DURBAN, South Africa – The 21st International AIDS Conference formally kicked off on Monday, July 18, with more than 18,000 scientists, researchers, activists, world leaders and leading experts descending to Durban, South Africa for the 5-day event.
This year’s conference puts focus on the role of the young generation in ending the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
In the evening’s opening ceremony, Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, welcomed the delegates and featured 25 “youth ambassadors” from around the world spreading awareness on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (PODCAST: What HIV/AIDS statistics tell us)
The opening ceremony coincides with Nelson Mandela Day, in honor of Madiba’s legacy on human rights and HIV.
Several speakers at the opening ceremony, composed of performing artists and world leaders, made pleas for increased funding and attention to stigmatized populations of gay men, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, migrants, prisoners and women and girls.
Charlize Theron, actress and representative of Africa Outreach Project, spotlighted stigma and discrimination that are causing a resurgence of HIV/AIDS in some countries. “We value some lives more than others. We value men more than women; straight love more than gay love; white people more than black people; the rich more than the poor; and adults more than adolescents.”
“HIV is transmitted by sexism, racism, poverty and homophobia,” Theron exclaims.
She calls on the “genendit” – the younger generation that has the will and capacity to end the epidemic to take the lead. She hopes that with the United Nation’s goal to fast track the AIDS epidemic by 2030, the conference will be counting down to their last four conferences.
Chris Beyrer, president of International AIDS Society, made a plea to fully fund the Global Fund, largest financier of anti-AIDS programs.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, likewise made an impassioned plea for increased funding. He said that the UN’s target in ending AIDS could slip away because of the decline in funding from donor countries.
HIV activists composed mostly of young people were visibly present during the ceremony and used the technical glitches to chant, sing and raise their banners, cheered on by the audience.
At the traditional people’s “march for health” which occurred on the first day of the conference, several thousand people chanted, sang and danced at King Dinuzulu park while calling on world leaders to not leave stigmatized populations behind.
According to long time Filipino HIV activist Malu Marin, coordinator of a 7 sisters, a network of HIV organizations in Asia Pacific, this year’s march is particularly significant.
“This year, it’s a march for renewed activism, which is precipitated by the frustration borne out of the events that happened at the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in June in New York where a political declaration on HIV was adopted.”
In the Philippines, around 25 Filipinos get diagnosed with HIV daily, based on a report released by the Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday, July 14.
Civil society and community groups have criticized the political declaration for silencing key populations.
The weeklong conference is held every two years. It returns to Durban after 16 years when it first hosted the 8th AIDS conference in 2000. – Rappler.com
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