WUSC Blog: Stepping it up! Day two at the 20th International AIDS Conference

Melbourne, Australia

Stepping it up!

Today I took my own advice. I went the extra mile. I actually feel like I lived 2 days over the last 14 hours, not one. I woke up at 6.30 and went to sessions straight up until 17:00 when proceeded with all of my energy to a reception for Canadians in Melbourne hosted by Canada’s Minister of Health. I’m back at the hotel now going through my notes for the day and I’m finding it hard to believe that this morning’s session on Zimbabwe’s AIDS Levy was this actually this morning – it feels like yesterday. You know you’ve had a long day when…

But it was fantastic. I learned a lot and met some really great people. Interestingly, I even to got to chat for a few minutes with Botswana’s former Minister of Health as well. She’s one fine lady that I really admire – so strong and a real force to be reckoned with.

Let me share with you a bit about that session: it was actually a session I hadn’t planned to attend (I had wanted to attend one on Treatment Literacy, but it was cancelled), but I’m really glad I did. The session was entitled “Galvanizing a Movement for Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030”. The speakers included Michael Sidibe (UNAIDS), former Botswana President Festus Mogae and others. I always love listening to President Mogae speak about HIV. He’s very down to earth, humble and I am so grateful for the gift he has given to Botswana: free antiretroviral therapy for all citizens.

Today, he encouraged us not to drop the torch. “Without denying what we have done in the past, we must acknowledge that we could have and can currently do better.” Echoing sentiments from yesterday’s blog, he said if we haven’t yet expanded or scaled up what we are good at, then we are acting irresponsibly. In other words, if we have the capacity to do PMTCT – to save babies from HIV – then why are we still losing babies? If we have the capacity to put people on ARVs, why aren’t we putting EVERYONE on treatment who needs it? You might say that this is too simplistic, that it is about more than capacity, but I’ll quote another speaker who argued that “it’s not a question of can we afford it, but rather, can we afford not to?” Mogae is right. If we CAN do it, why AREN’T we doing it? Maybe we just need to go that extra mile.

At the Canadian reception tonight I was so refreshed to meet a couple of cheerful and optimistic science graduate students who had me mesmerized by their confidence in a cure – one of them, who is researching anal mucosal surfaces (and the other vaginal) and she said that as she prepared for the first day of the conference she looked at the thick conference program and wondered if the cure for HIV is somewhere in these pages, and we just have to work a bit harder to get it. They motivated me, so I went back to the conference and attended one more evening session after the reception. Maybe we just all need to work a little bit harder.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, South African Chanteuse, close friend of the late Nelson Mandela and TB and HIV Ambassador, “Forums like this are good. But forums like this need to change lives”.

 

 

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/.

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