Thursday , 14 June 2018
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Marching towards a world free from HIV AIDS

Marching towards a world free from HIV AIDS

Volunteer team of Human Touch was sponsored by UNAIDS and International AIDS Society (IAS) to participate in the 21st International AIDS Conference 2016 held at Durban, South Africa. The team speaks to NT BUZZ about their experience at the AIDS conference and the way forward to end stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS.
SHERAS FERNANDES | NT BUZZ
Stigma and discrimination are among the prime barriers to prevent HIV, its treatment, care and support, and transmission. The discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS is still prevalent in Goa with the society’s rigid mindset. Inadequate knowledge and understanding on the subject being one of the main reasons. Youth-led organisation Human Touch in collaboration with Positive People has been organising events to cater to the needs of children and adolescents living with HIV throughout the state.
The volunteer team of Human Touch were sponsored by UNAIDS and International AIDS Society (IAS) to participate in the 21st International AIDS Conference 2016 held at Durban, South Africa. The team comprised of CEO, Human Touch, Peter Borges, project manager, Positive People, Ashwini Naik, project assistant, Positive People, Dashmi Mandrekar, and volunteers, Archie Fernandes, Venancio Rodrigues and Santosh Badgari.
The team set on a journey to Durban to widen their knowledge and understanding and to empower people living with HIV/AIDS by working towards curbing stigma and discrimination associated with it. The IAS provides an essential forum for HIV professionals to share their expertise and real-world experiences, and bridge the knowledge gaps.
The International AIDS Conference is the largest conference on any global health or development issue. Approximately 18,000 individuals from across 180 countries participated in the conference, including HIV health workers, policy makers and people living with HIV/AIDS committed to end the AIDS epidemic.
For most of the volunteers at the AIDS Conference 2016 it was a first time experience where they learnt more and interacted with people affected by the virus. The sessions at the conference revolved around the central theme of ending stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV though their campaign – ‘Ending AIDS by 2030’.
While speaking to Borges, he focused on how the youth have a significant role in ending this problem: “The team performed a thematic dance on HIV stigma and discrimination, titled ‘Be the Change’ live at the Global Village, Durban. Most of the celebrity speakers stressed the importance of youth leading the response. The discussion around ending HIV needs to include the youth.”
He stressed on the need to support the young key affected population – LGBT, drug users and sex workers. “We are at a unique point in time. The world now is setting targets to end AIDS by 2030. Yet complacency is setting in our country with regards to increased investment in the public health system. Without sustainable funding, civil society cannot continue its valuable work,” says Borges.
Almost 90 per cent of the population living with HIV are not aware that they are affected by the virus. The team highlights that lack of infrastructure and negligence on the part of the state is contributing towards the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS. “The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS can only be eradicated through testing and treatment services, making onwards transmission less likely. Government’s laws, rules and policies regarding HIV often separates and excludes people living with HIV, thus reinforcing the stigma; hence it is important that the governing bodies cater to the needs of such communities,” says Ashwini.
Dashmi, through the care and support project, aims to end discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS. She says: “It’s a very nice initiative by IAS to organise such conferences; they are amazing platforms to learn and understand the topic. Through this conference I learnt how to raise funds, resource mobilisation and some other nuances of running an organisation.”
The 21st International AIDS Conference 2016 proved to be a learning time for all the volunteers. Ashwini Naik says: “The conference was an enriching experience, it was great to see everyone so focused in life, the learning was not just restricted to adults or mentors even the kids and the younger crowd had a lot to teach.”

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