Gary Pieters is a Canadian who took part in a 2010 exchange that sent him to the University of Illinois at Chicago's Study of the United States Institute (SUSI).
I believe that the AIDS2012 XIX International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. White Convention Center in Washington DC USA is the largest ever gathering of a diverse group of academics, researchers, policymakers, scientists, medical, government, non-profit, charitable and community based individuals and organizations committed to taking action to reduce and eliminate HIV/AIDS.
At the AIDS2012 conference, I'm a social media volunteer in media/communications with UNAIDS. I have had the opportunity to attend sessions and contribute tweets that were added to the UNAIDS twitter account, facebook and social media websites. I also monitor what others are saying about UNAIDS on social media as well as prepare materials for press conferences, speeches or for display at the UNAIDS media/communications booth.
At the HIV/AIDS sessions, I attended the opening plenary and was able to hear from a variety of influential political and civil society leaders on efforts to reduce and eradicate HIV/AIDS. US Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius explained some of the US National HIV/AIDS strategy goals of reducing transmission of HIV/AIDS; increasing access to care and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
I visited the Global Village which is a vast area for global, national, and local groups to share their knowledge. I interacted with some of the groups and listened to their presentations on the steps they are taking to reduce and eliminate HIV/AIDS in their communities. Some of the groups were doing peer education, while others were engaged in harm reduction, and others were involved in promoting safe sex practices including the use of condoms.
I attended a session hosted by UNAIDS where 7 women leaders formed part of a "High Level Panel on Securing Investments in HIV and Gender Equality for Social Change". I was impressed with the various perspectives shared by these women leaders. Here is some of what they said:
- Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director UNAIDS stated that UNAIDS believes in targeted funding for maximum results with social and economic accountability
- Zimbabwe's DPM Thokozani Khupe believes that the AIDS Levy in Zimbabwe have helped more women to access ARVs in Zimbabwe
- Hon Dr. Naomi Shaban, Kenya's Minister of Gender, Children & Social Development explained that Kenya gives cash to grandparents who raise orphaned children
- Ms Carolyn Ryan, Director of Technical Leadership, Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator shared that 155 Million USD is spent on gender based violence prevention programs
I also attended a congressional reception jointly hosted with UNAIDS on Capitol Hill and was able to hear from Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee and Jan Schakowsky on the leadership and action at the congressional leadership and across the US. The congresswomen spoke of the National HIV/AIDs strategy, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the health care system's impact in reducing the HIV/AIDS infection level in the US; the PEPFAR (United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) partnership with the global fund to treat HIV/AIDS and deliver services in the US and across the globe; and new money that is being spent in the global HIV/AIDS campaign for an AIDS free generation.
I also attended a local screening of an award winning documentary "The Other City" that looked at the lives of people in Washington who are living with HIV/AIDs and their stories of courage. I was quite attentive to the images and daily lives of the children of the people affected by HIV/AIDS. Some of the children were in the audience and they ranged from infants to adults. The diverse life experiences of the subjects of the documentary proved that HIV/AIDS affects every diversity of social class in Washington.
Overall, I believe that the conference is a turning point and its theme "turning the tide" may deliver the commitments and actions necessary to reach the goal of an AIDS free generation in the near future.