It is day one of the 20th International AIDS Conference today in Melbourne, Australia - over 14,000 delegates expected to attend this week.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Stepping up the Pace”, a theme which I fully endorse. After working and volunteering in the HIV sector for more than two decades in an epidemic we’ve lived with for more than three decades, it is time to increase the momentum and reach higher for a cure, a vaccine, improved behavioral prevention interventions and better overall health for people living with HIV. The speed at which we are responding needs to be accelerated immediately to reverse the course of this epidemic.
Where I currently live and work in Botswana, we have an estimated 40 new infections per day. In my age group and my gender, more than 50% of us are already living with HIV. It is indeed time to step it up.
My own footsteps led me through the exhibition area on Sunday afternoon before the conference began, where I ran into some delightful fellow Canadians at the Canadian AIDS Society booth. As usual, the Canadians had come up with an engaging and interactive info booth which also serves as a friendly place for Canadians and non-Canadians alike to pause and take a load off during the conference. At the stall they had created a giant Wish Tree and they had these clever little maple-leaf sticky notes to populate the tree. They were asking delegates to write their wishes on the leaves and attach them to the wish tree. One thoughtful delegate wrote “Find a cure – don’t worry, I will find another job”. This quote moved me – it really spoke to the Stepping Up the Pace theme and articulated a lot of my frustrations in this work. As long as those of us who are negative are still becoming infected and as long as those of us who are positive still need drugs and good health services, we aren’t doing enough. Whether we work in direct service or indirectly support the sector, thank you for all that you do. Your heart is visible every day that you fight this fight. But the work you do is not just a job – and it should NEVER be business as usual for any of us. We all need to go the extra mile, and try just a little bit harder, a few extra steps from all of us might just turn us toward the tipping point for our epidemic.
About the writer: Melissa Godwaldt works for WUSC in Botswana on the Maatla Project (Civil Society Strengthening in organizational development and technical programming for improved HIV outcomes). Melissa is presenting a poster at the conference on Thursday afternoon, where she will shares successes and lessons learned from a recent civil society strengthening project that WUSC managed in during 2013.
For more information about the conference visit: http://www.aids2014.org/.