Keep the hope alive
Vienna Conference in brief
The Vienna Conference came to an end with a bang! There were as many expectations as there were people. Most, if not all of those who work in the area of HIV and AIDS hoped for and expected for a solution to HIV and AIDS and al the challenges associated with it. Whether those expectations were met or not is subject to discussion, what majority of the participants would agree though is that the Conference was a place of learning, sharing and most of all, keeping the hope alive!
In the area of ‘Prevention’, the news of the Tenofovir microbicide gel that can reduce HIV infection by up to 39% was well received. No doubt it was good news to women in developing countries who most of the times, are at the mercy of their sexual partners who make important decisions such as to use or not to use a condom. The gel will greatly compliment the successes of condoms in preventing HIV transmission because one of the biggest challenges facing condoms is lack their consistent use in every sexual encounter for partners who may be infected or having more than one sexual partner.
In the area of ‘Treatment’ it was refreshing to know that the new CD4 counting machine, ‘Daktari’ could cost as low as $300. Lack of access to CD4 counting machines has often been blamed for the late commencement of ARVs for People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). The ‘Daktari’ is small thus easily portable and apparently easy to maintain and use as compared to most of the current ones which cost anything from $50,000! This means once the machines are made available to as many Health facilities as possible especially in developing countries, it will be much easier to monitor the viral load of PLWHAs and thus introduce ARVs at the WHO recommended level of CD4 count of 350. The challenge is for governments to provide as many ‘Daktaris’ as possible as well as the very crucial ARVs.
Care and support
It is in the area of Care and Support ( C&S) that activists felt more and more needs to be done. It was felt that more often than not, governments and international institutions only paid lip service to C&S yet invested very little in terms of providing resources for the Care Providers who are normally ‘bailing the governments out’ by doing what the governments should actually be doing. Public Health facilities have been shifting tasks to Care Providers but governments to very little to support them. This was explained very well by Bongai Mundeta, the VSO-RAISA Director in a high level panel on Monday afternoon.
“The Care Providers, most of whom are women and girls, need care themselves because they spend up to 6 hours a day providing care to their clients,” she said.
VSO in Vienna
VSO as a member of the Caregivers Action Network (CAN) hosted the ‘CAN zone’ in which several panels were hosted and a number of prominent people including Stephen Lewis, former special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World, UNAIDS envoys and VSO’s own Liz Holmes, the Regional Director of Southern Africa and Bongai Mundeta spoke and chaired sessions. The CAN zone presented Care Providers with the badly needed opportunity to share experiences, debrief and learn from one another.
Indeed, when the VSO delegation met on Thursday for a debrief session, all shared how they had been enriched by the sessions and presentations on different themes at the conference. So it is with renewed vigour and inspiration that the VSO delegation goes back to their respective countries to apply what they have learnt and more importantly, keep the hope alive!