The 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa was an inspiring and eye opening experience for me in terms of what it means to be HIV+ in today’s society and what the future may hold in this area. I attended the Interfaith Pre-Conference as well as the main conference and I was moved, inspired and challenged by the experience.
The Interfaith Pre-Conference from 16-17 July was held in Durban and its theme was “Faith on the Fast Track.”Some of the Speakers at the Conference were:
- Mr Cesar Antonio Nunex who is the director of RST Latin America and Caribbean UNAIDS.
- Ms Faghmeda miller who is a healthy promoter/counselor at the University of the Western cape.
- Nadege Uwase Munyaburaranga From YWCA (Rwanda)
Opening remarks were by Dr Ulysses Burley from the Global Organizing Committee and Dr Manoj Kurian from the World council of churches as well as Ms Lyn Van Rooyen from CABSA and local organizing committee. Ms Lyn Van Rooyen from CABSA lead the candle lighting ceremony in respect and in the remembrance of those people living with HIV/AIDS.
One of the lessons learnt was that the financial investment required to care for people living with HIV/AIDS is increasing as the number of PLWA also increases. Recommended action in this case was ;
- HIV testing
- Retroviral treatment
- Intensification of combined prevention
- Commitment from all sectors
- Innovation (new technology)
- Zero discrimination
- Monitoring and evaluation
Ms Faghmeda Millar also emphasized the fact that people can live with the virus but what kills them is the stigma that is attached to it. She explained this with the reference to her life. Nadege Uwase Munyaburanga a Rwandan YWCA volunteer who was born HIV+ also explained that one needs to love and forgiveness when found HIV+.
Apart from the Plenary, I learned a lot from the workshops conducted at the Pre-Conference. The theme of the workshop was “Replacing stigma with positive attitudes”. The difference between stigma and discrimination was discussed, stigma was defined as the attitude and discrimination was defined as the manifestation behaviour of stigma. There were some recommendations that were given on how faith communities can decrease stigma including
- Being inclusive
- Not being silent
- ministering to people with HIV
- forming support groups.
There was a discussion among ministers from different countries of Africa, including minister from Zimbabwe, Minister from Zambia,Minister from Kenya and other countries that I found particularly informative in the sense of what governments are doing in HIV/AIDS world. Each ministry gave feedback on the progress of their work to ensure comprehensive sexuality education in their respective ministries.
The Minister from Zambia spoke comprehensively about they have done so far in Zambia, she explained that they have managed to come up with youth friendly services for the youth to access various information and to get help without facing problems. The Minister said that comprehensive sexuality education was ensured with this formulation of youth friendly services.
In the afternoon, there was an Egumeni session at Zimbali Hotel where policy makers together with ministers came to listen to some of the real stories from YWCA girls. Loveness Puliwa shared her story, CZ from India also shared her story and a lot of recommendations and commitments were made in order to end child marriages.
- Listening to the youth for their views
- Making some policies that support the youth
- Empowering women
- Promoting girl child education
Rev. Phumzile Mabizela visited to the YWCA space hub where she had a discussion with young women on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. She responded some of the questions that the YWCA delegates had for her. She emphasized much on the responsibilities that faith communities have in relation to comprehensive sexuality education. She encouraged all girls that are HIV+ because she is a living testimony as she has lived with HIV for more than 25 years and she is a proud mother of two and a reverend.
I moderated a session which was a dialogue that involved faith leaders and the youth. It was aimed at finding more responses from the faith leaders on more questions that the youth always have. The session was well patronized and well participated.
We also had a session with Dr Manoj Kurian from the World Council of Churches that was an eye opener. He spoke more about HIV/AIDS as a professional doctor with reference to what faith, particularly the practice of resorting to prayer and refusing medication. He denounced faith leaders that discourage patients from taking their medication saying that it is good to pray at the same time it is also good to ensure proper medication.
We also attended a session on Measurement and adherence specifically on how technology is helping in the support of treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. one such technology is Wisepill which is a device used to keep pills (ARV’s) and remind individuals the exact time to be taken. This helps in realtime medication monitoring. It is a device that can be charged and it has long time battery life, there is no or poor network mode.
Why and how a Wise pill is used
- It is used as a measure of adherence
- It is designed for adults receiving treatment
Advantages and disadvantages of the Wise pill
- High acceptability among patient users
- Anticipate extra costs for replacement of lost broken by patients.
- Returned devices can be reused
- Difficulty differentiating between non – adherence to device vs non adherence to medication
- Need devoted staff to maintain on- going monitoring
- Wise pills are also acceptable to adolescents and caregivers.
- Using reminder calls help participants keep batteries charged
- Helpful if participants dispersed across a large region
- Network issues- changes in national SIM registration policy suddenly rendered some device inactive.
- Many homes lack electricity and cannot charge the battery
- Batteries must be charged either at an office with electricity or at participants homes.
By Caroline Chidandale, YWCA of Malawi