The AIDS 2008 conference (IAC) in Mexico City drew to a close on August, 8th, 2008. The theme of the conference was “universal action now” and judging by the heavy international attendance, the focus on marginalized communities and the daily newsletter aptly called “Global Voice”, it delivered on the promise. Here we review testimonies from African participants at the conference, their perspectives on the 6 days-long summit and issues they wished were addressed further.
Dr. Nabulo Mabaso, Deputy Medical Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation‘s Ithembalabantu “People's Hope” Clinic in Durban expresses his satisfaction that support for marginalized communities (sex workers, men who have sex with men, and indigeneous people) was emphasized by conference organizers. However, he explains that this focus should extend to other marginalized communities and even currently isolated nations:
“There is still limited access to treatment. For example, my neighboring country, Zimbabwe, it might be politically unstable, but there are people on the ground who are suffering and because of sanctions that are being imposed funders are not going to Zimbabwe. At the end of the day, it's the lives of individuals and I hope the theme of universal access is really put into practice”.
George Kanuma lives in Bujumbura and is an activist for the France-based association Africa Gay and is a member of ANSS (National Association for HIV-Positive and AIDS patients in Burundi). He is content with the renewed emphasis on MSM (Men having Sex with Men) and sex workers at the conference (fr):
However, in some French-speaking African countries, discrimination is still very strong, he explains (fr):
“Il y a certain pays comme le Cameroun ou le Sénégal qui criminalise encore l’homosexualité [..] Il y a des cas aussi comme au Ruanda, la présidente de l’association gay et lesbienne au Ruanda ne peut toujours pas quitté son pays, parce que la police de l’immigration a pris son passeport.”
A few countries, like Cameroon or Senegal, still criminalize homosexuality. [..] There are also cases like the one in Rwanda, where the president of the LGBT association cannot exit her country because the immigration police is still holding her passport.
The Fimizore project in Madagascar was one of the recipient of the 2008 UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award. Balou, a trans-gendered sexual worker and her colleague Jeannie, are members of the project and they both weighed in on their hope and concerns for the conference. Like Kanuma, they both emphasized the need to end marginalization of sexual workers if we want to effectively fight HIV/AIDS (mg):
“Ny fanilikilhina indrindra no manankana ny MSM sy ny TDS hikarakara ny fahasalamany […] Io moa dia eo ihany ny fomba-drazana antsika malagasy, raha ohatra hoe msm dia tsy tafiditra am-pasan-drazana. Raha amin’ny autorites dia mahafa-po fa raha amin’ny societe civile, mbola mila fivoarana.”
Marginalization is what prevents MSM (men having sex with men) and TDS ( sexual workers) from taking care of their health [..] There are also the walls of traditional Malagasy culture. For instance, if you are a MSM, you will not be allowed to enter the familial cemetery (when you pass away). The official authorities have made great strides but the civil society has still a long way to go (in ending marginalization).
Finally, marginalized communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS are not only products of cultural intolerance or political agendas. They are also the result of economic hardships or plain geographical locations. In this video, on The Hub, Dr. Phillip Njemanze, in Imo State, Nigeria, explains the struggle for HIV positive people in rural areas to monitor their immune system:
“In rural areas in Imo State, CD4 testing is non-existent. This means for 3.5 million people you have only two centers that can measure CD4 count in the whole state [..] The most important thing would be, to be able to move around with the test and go where the patients are.”