Stories in the ‘Archive’ Topic

It’s Hot Out Here!

NEW YORK _ Delegates and heads of state had to contend with triple digit heat on Thursday, the second day of historic high level meetings on AIDS at the United Nations.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the New York area, after forecasting midday temperatures would climb to 99 degrees – and warned it would feel like 104 with humidity.

Meeting attendees darted between plenaries in the General Assembly, waited outside on lines for event tickets and occasionally stopped to rest in the shade of trees lining the UN’s complex on First Avenue.

“It’s like the devil is breathing on us,” said UNITY Journalists of Color, Inc. director Onica Makwakwa.

On Friday, the forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 85.

AARON MORRISON
UNITY AIDSNews

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U.S. Researcher Assists AIDS Fight in Africa

Thirty years ago June 5, a young UCLA researcher published articles about otherwise healthy gay young patients experiencing fungal infections. That doctor was Michael Gottlieb. He reported what would become known as the first cases of AIDS. Within weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked around New York and San Francisco and found similar cases in among mostly gay men.

They identified 130 cases by the end of 1981. In 1982, they started seeing cases among blood transfusion recipients, and people who shared needles. The British journal The Lancet reported that 38 patients with AIDS were identified in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1983.

“I don’t think we had a sense of an epidemic until we heard about HIV in Africa,” Gottlieb told UNITY AIDSNews in a telephone interview. “I remember thinking, ‘Could it be the same thing that’s happening in the U.S.?’ But the fact it was the same thing. Now, we know that HIV originated in Central Africa. The pieces of the puzzle fitted together.”

While researchers struggled to understand the new virus, the public singled out homosexuals in the early stages of AIDS. In the November 1986 California election, followers of political activist Lyndon LaRouche almost passed Proposition 64, an AIDS quarantine initiative to limit activities and employment for carriers of the virus.

“AIDS didn’t originate with homosexuals. It’s an accident that they became involved. Now, a tiny fraction of those people are gay but their community still suffer from early association,” Gottlieb said.

The oldest specimen of HIV was detected in a 1959 blood sample donated by a man in Congo, according to a report published in Nature in 1998. The new research and discoveries lessened the stigma in African countries toward homosexuals.

Gottlieb is now involved with HIV in Africa through the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, GAIA, which does HIV relief in Malawi. He hopes that the U.N. meeting will develop more initiatives to push the U.N.’s Millennium Development goals for prevention, education and treatment, especially for women.

“I hope the conference will address the rights of women and girls and their economic empowerment,” he said. “The economic dependence of women and girls everywhere puts them at greater risk for contracting HIV.”

Since HIV treatment is now a recognized form of prevention, Gottlieb said increasing the number of people on anti-retroviral medication could bring an end to the disease.
For Gottlieb, the fight is far from over.

“The public is tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.”

He calls it “compassion fatigue” and says AIDS is no longer in vogue.

“But the reality is that it isn’t over. It didn’t even reach middle age,” he said. “It’s not a time to back off on our efforts to control the damage caused by HIV.”

SOPHIA TEWA
UNITY AIDSNews

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Battle Brews Over a Controversial Procedure: Transplanting HIV-Infected Organs

University of Cape Town surgeon Dr. Elmi Muller led a team that transplanted 10 infected organs successfully into HIV-positive patients. (Photo Courtesy of Groote Schuur Hospital)

A fight is brewing in this country, although you may be unaware of it.

This battle is not between Google and Bing, or Republicans and Democrats. It’s a fight between advocates and lawmakers, and it’s over the use of HIV-infected organs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines to encourage research into transplanting HIV-positive organs into HIV-positive people. But, for the research to happen, Congress would have to lift a ban on transplanting HIV-infected organs.

Additionally, the HIV Medicine Association, a professional group of physicians who treat HIV-infected people, recently announced plans to lobby national lawmakers on the issue this year.

The ban on transplanting HIV-infected organs infected applies even to patients who already carry the virus. The ban is a result of a 23-year-old amendment to the National Organ Transplant Act, passed when the HIV/AIDS crisis was still in its infancy.
Supporters of the ban say it prevents infected organs from making sick patients worse and increasing the cost of their treatment. But HIV/AIDS activists in the medical community say it is better to transplant the organs and extend lives rather than dispose of them.

One such activist, Dr. Elmi Muller, said that when she began performing surgery on AIDS patients in South Africa, which has more AIDS cases than any other nation, she was shocked by what she saw.

“We would just throw [HIV-positive organs] away; we wouldn’t use them,” Muller said in a phone interview Wednesday from South Africa. “So it became clear to me that the way forward is to utilize these organs for the recipients who are dying.”

Muller and her team have since performed 10 HIV-positive kidney transplants to HIV-positive recipients, garnering international attention. Of 10 patients, only one experienced rejection.

Still, even activists are on both sides of the issue. Some argue that the amendment is outdated, written when an HIV diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence.
“It started in the 1980s, when the disease was termed GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency),” wrote Huffington Post blogger Kat Griffith, who is HIV-positive.

“President (Ronald) Reagan refused to even say the word AIDS for four years and the epidemic decimated entire communities in this country all the while.”
In the 1980s, people with an HIV diagnosis were not expected to live long enough for the virus to affect their organs, necessitating transplants. Today, the average life expectancy for a person who receives an HIV diagnosis at age 20 is roughly 32 years. Medical advances and research have changed the landscape of HIV treatment, and perhaps it only makes sense that the laws evolve to match, advocates say.

There is a precedent for transplanting infected organs. It’s legal to transplant organs infected with hepatitis C into patients with hepatitis C, bolstering the argument that it’s not the severity of the disease that’s sustaining the ban — it’s the stigma.

But activists on the other side of the issue, who include award-winning playwright Larry Kramer, are opposed to substandard organs.

Kramer, an early HIV/AIDS activist, has firsthand experience with this issue. He’s been HIV-positive since 1988.

“I’ve almost died three times,” Kramer said in a phone interview. “The second time was when I was given six months to live because my liver was giving out, and I didn’t think that I could get a new liver when I had HIV.”

After major news organizations reported him dying (The Associated Press even reported he had died), Kramer got a new liver. But he does not lend his support to transplanting infected organs.

“Substandard organs into sick people only makes for people who will continue to be sick,” Kramer said. “I’ve seen people who have received bad organs, and how sick they can get.”

Kramer’s story is a good example of the fact that once organ failure is on the table, most patients with HIV/AIDS don’t have much time.

“The clock is ticking more quickly for those who are HIV-positive,” Dr. Dorry Segev told The New York Times, which reported on the issue two months ago. He is transplant-surgery director of clinical research at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Segev also co-authored a study asserting that if the law changed, 500 to 600 HIV-infected livers and kidneys would become available each year. The surgeries would reduce 110,000 patient lists for transplants.

There are strong dissenting voices. The case against allowing HIV-infected organs to be transplanted includes the compelling argument that the organs could be transplanted into noninfected patients by mistake.

There are examples of such medical errors. In Chicago in 2007, a donor had tested negative for HIV, but the test was administered too early – during the three- to six-month period when HIV antibodies aren’t detectable in the blood. As a result, tainted organs infected four transplant recipients.

Another case that caught national attention involved a kidney recipient from a living donor who initially tested negative, but then had unprotected sex and contracted HIV in the 79 days before the surgery.
Another concern is that organs would be somewhat “wasted” on HIV patients, since they are already immune-compromised.

“There’s this kind of stigma in South Africa,” Muller said. “My medical colleagues did not feel comfortable giving HIV-positive patients the organs, and so they were offered nothing. The patients aren’t considered good transplant candidates.”

David Aldridge, 45, who is awaiting a new kidney, said the stigma exists, as he told The New York Times.

“[There are] people saying, why should an organ be wasted on us?” Aldridge said.
Surprisingly, though, large clinical trials found that transplant organs given to patients with HIV had outcomes comparable to organs given to patients without the virus. But it is true that transplant organs given to HIV-positive patients wear out faster.

Another argument against lifting the ban is that doing so might spur a movement for HIV-negative patients to receive infected organs. One group that may support such a movement is the United Network for Organ Sharing. The president, Dr. Charlie Alexander, told the Times, “I don’t want to minimize living with HIV, but I think it’s a medically treatable disease now.”

Alexander, like many doctors, said he believes that there should be a special exception, that HIV-negative people who are entering organ failure should have the choice of accepting an HIV-infected organ – better HIV-positive and alive, than dead.
The transplant of HIV-infected organs is a polarizing issue within many medical groups, political circles and communities.

But people affected by the issue, such as Aldridge, who has been HIV-positive for 25 years, understand the risks perhaps better than anyone else. He says that if there were a transplant list for infected organs, he would be on it.

“If I need a kidney transplant to survive,” Aldridge said in a news report, “then so be it.”

NATASHA ZOUVES
UNITY AIDSNews

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Human, Civil Rights Crucial to Prevention Efforts, U.S. Rep Says

Countries must protect human and civil rights as they move toward treating HIV and AIDS as a health issue, not a criminal matter, said world policymakers attending the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS.

Members of parliament and nongovernmental organizations from nearly 50 countries on Tuesday debated ways to improve policies in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for communities most affected by the virus. People affected include women, IV drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

“The problem is, in most countries, the people who are the most vulnerable to HIV are the often the most marginalized – the ones whose behavior is criminalized by the law,” said Aleksandra Blagojevic, program officer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “How do you reach these people?”

Parliamentarians have important roles in the HIV response because they have the power to reform laws that criminalize behavior, such as drug use and prostitution, Blagojevic said.

“You deal with the disease,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), one of the speakers during the parliamentary briefing. “You don’t put him in prison. That’s not the solution.”

Some parliamentarians were concerned about the sustainability of HIV/AIDS programs, especially if donor states cut back in the middle of a fiscal crisis, said McDermott.
“I hope that’s not what happens, but it’s not inconceivable that there will be less money this year than last year.”

McDermott would like to see more sources of funding for HIV/AIDS programs or, at the very least, to keep the programs running at their current levels. Money should be used to build more infrastructures and to train more health care professionals in developing countries, he said, adding that such measures to combat the epidemic have been overlooked.

“In building something in a country … we’ve not been so good in investing our money,” McDermott said. “A lot of this is driven by our own business interests.”
The answer lies in an AIDS vaccine, McDermott said, noting that another focus should be preventing mother-to-child transmission by increasing access to life-saving medications.

“We have the pharmaceuticals now,” McDermott said. “The question is: How do you get it to the patients?”

Not only do parliamentarians oversee the implementation of laws, but they can also encourage more open dialogue in their countries, which may help reduce the stigma associated with the virus, according to IPU’s Blagojevic.

“They can urge for more tolerance and support for people living with HIV,” Blagojevic said. “It is important for every country to look at its own laws.”

EUNA LHEE
UNITY AIDSNews

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UNAIDS Pledges to Strengthen Collaboration With Faith-Based Groups

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a delegate with Caritas Internationalis, addresses church leaders Wednesday at a panel about the role of churches in providing care for HIV/AIDS patients. (PHOTO BY - LAURA FIGUEROA)

The doors of St. Mary’s Outreach Center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, were shut for a few weeks in December.

Its closing meant about 900 patients living with HIV/AIDS could not get testing services, prevention workshops and treatment.

St. Mary’s shutdown was emblematic of the funding shortfalls facing many of the churches and faith-based organizations fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS on a grass-roots level. The clinic, funded by the Roman Catholic Church, eventually reopened, but struggled with declining donations.

“There are people in dire need of these medications, but funding is always one of the biggest challenges,” said Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a delegate for Caritas Internationalis, a philanthropic arm of the Catholic Church that finances programs in underdeveloped nations.

Vitillo spoke Wednesday at Holy Family Church in New York City, where a workshop organized by Caritas Internationalis and other Catholic charities addressed the role of faith-based organizations in providing access to HIV treatments. Worldwide, there are about nine million people living with the disease who cannot afford the costly life-prolonging medications.

Moving forward, the collaboration between UNAIDS and church organizations should be strengthened, said Dr. Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAIDS.
“We have underutilized faith-based organizations in the past,” De Lay told the group of about 100 representatives of church and social-service agencies gathered at the church. Their meeting was part of the events affiliated with the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS.

While UNAIDS has not typically financed faith-based outreach efforts in the past, De Lay said the agency would work to draw more attention to the services provided worldwide through church organizations.

“From our side, what follows in 2012, 2013 and moving forward does recognize the role that you are already playing,” De Lay said.

Already, UNAIDS has called on church leaders worldwide to help in the effort to reduce violence and rape.

“Women and girls are most affected by sexual violence and are most vulnerable to HIV,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in a March speech in London. “UNAIDS will work closely with faith-based organizations to ensure the dignity and protection of women and girls.”

Meera Shankar, director of Empower, a women’s outreach group in Tamilnadu, India, said church groups were crucial for treating women who came looking for help.
“We can get the word out there about prevention, but once someone is diagnosed with the virus, it is the faith-based groups that run clinics and offer support systems,” said Shankar, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “They fill a void that some of our smaller groups can’t fill.”

Shankar has worked for the past 15 years raising HIV/AIDS awareness among the “slums and sex workers” of Tamilnadu, she said. When Shankar first conducted workshops on sexual protection, it was almost taboo to speak to women about protecting themselves, but now, she said, the life-saving messages are welcome.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s a faith-based group or nondenominational,” Shankar said. “It’s the end result that matters. If we can work together to stop the spread of the virus, then that is what will matter most.”

LAURA FIGUEROA
UNITY AIDSNews

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Peaceful Protest Spotlights Strong Passion in AIDS Fight

Chants, songs and shouts comprised a chaotic but peaceful protest to bring awareness to the need for funding and research in the fight against AIDS. The march, which drew protestors from around the world Wednesday morning, coincided with the opening day of the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS.

The marchers converged on Bryant Park, and then weaved their way through midtown Manhattan to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations Building, where they called on leaders to stand behind funding commitments for AIDS.

“The lives of the people are not negotiable. Our lives are at risk,” said Julio Cesar Aguilera Hurtado, an HIV-positive activist from Bolivia. “Medication is very expensive. If our governments don’t lobby for that dough to reach our country, our people will die.”

Aguilera, the general program director of a Bolivian AIDS advocacy group, held a sign that read: “Treatment and prevention for all, including men who have sex with men and drug users.”

The crowd of protesters included families with children, gay couples and religious leaders, some HIV-positive and some not. They hoisted a giant balloon calling on G-8 leaders to “Fund AIDS Now!” and shook homemade noisemakers.

Emmaia Gelman brought her twin daughters to the march that her partner helped to organize, because they believe government inaction inhibits access to medication for many people around the world.
She hopes their toddler-aged daughters will see a world without AIDS in their lifetime.

“It better take a lot less (time) than that,” Gelman said. “Even if people are irresponsible and slow, and choose politics over lives, it’s still within our grasp.”

The rapper, Bryan Fleury, 45, from West Springfield, Mass., focuses his efforts on promoting safe sex and access to education about AIDS-prevention methods.
Inspired by his “condom sense,” he enjoys rhyming about AIDS education. He was hard to miss in a hat decorated with condoms collected from around the world.

During the march, Fleury broke out into freestyle: “This is not a fiction; it’s a matter of fact,” he rapped. “Condom sense is what we lack.”

The diversity of the crowd underscored the reality that AIDS touches people in every walk of life.

The Rev. Lisandro Orlo of the Argentinian Lutheran Church, one of several religious leaders at the march, has been working on human rights for years.
“It’s not the virus that brings us to New York,” Orlo said. “It’s the wounded dignity of the people who live with HIV.”

AMY STRETTEN
and CARLA PINEDA
UNITY AIDSNews

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‘First Ladies’ Panel Focuses on Children Facing the Disease

During a recent Feast of Mothers event, Haiti’s first lady met pregnant mothers who were HIV-positive and hoped to give birth to children uninfected with the disease. The prognosis for the women and their unborn children are not great, but Sophia Saint Remy Martelly is committed to changing those odds.

“We want to make that hope a reality for everyone,” Martelly said Wednesday during a UNAIDS panel discussion, “so never again any child in Haiti, or anywhere in the world, would be born with HIV.”

(R)First Lady of Democratic Republic of Congo H.E. Mrs. Antoinette Sassou Nguesso share laughs with (L) First Lady of Comoros H.E. Mrs. Hadjira Djoudi during the UN High Level Meeting session. (Photo by Tametria Conner/UNITY AIDSNews)

Martelly was one of almost 30 first spouses who attended “First Ladies for the Elimination of New HIV Infections in Children,” a panel of the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting. The panel, highlighted by Azeb Mesfin, first lady of Ethiopia; Ban Soon-taek, wife of the U.N. secretary-general; Lok Chumteav Dr Bun Rany Hun Sen, first lady of Cambodia; and Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. The panel was moderated by Sudanese journalist Zeinab Badawi and focused on new HIV infections in children and sharing strategies for concrete solutions, particularly in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

“We cannot accept having 400,000 babies born every year with HIV in the developing world when it’s not happening anymore in the developed world,” Sidibé said.

In addition to expressing their support for general directives developed around increasing HIV treatment, care and support for women living with HIV and their families, several first ladies also shared new initiatives they were implementing in their countries.

Sylvia Bongo Ondima, first lady of Gabon, has set up a foundation on child and maternal health that offers free care to HIV-positive mothers and their children. Vivian Wade, first lady of Senegal, stressed the vitality of securing the participation of men in the campaign to prevent transmission from mother to child, as did the first lady of Malawi, Callista Mutharika, who added the importance of high political will, commitment and leadership.

In Morocco, Princess Lalla Salma proposed involving religious leaders to battle the taboo of HIV infection and stressed the importance of treating it as a health issue and not a moral judgment. The first lady of Cambodia, Lok Chumteav Dr Bun Rany Hun Sen, a nurse by training, discussed the epidemic shifting toward women who are considered low risk and she advocated a family centered and social approach that includes treating infected partners.

“We must not forget that every statistic is a human face,” she said.

Women’s issues were also in the spotlight Tuesday at the United Nations, a day ahead of the opening of the High Level Meeting on AIDS.

“I think that we are living in a man’s world,” said HIV positive activist Frika Chai at the HIV Priorities for Positive Change Conference.

She said governments limit their budgets when it comes to tackling the AIDS pandemic and addressing women as part of the solution. “It makes us feel that we don’t have the decision making power,” she added.

Last year, UNAIDS launched a five-year action plan called Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV. It consists of providing guidance to UN local agencies in countries members so they make a strong commitment to the eradication of AIDS, while responding efficiently and protecting the rights of girls and women. UNAIDS recognizes that current HIV programs and policies do not sufficiently tackle the needs and realities of this sector failing to protect human rights.

Jantine Jacobi, head of the UNAIDS Gender and AIDS Team, believes that women’s empowerment through education and leadership workshops could make a difference.

“After 30 years, unfortunately, the epidemic is largely the face of a woman,” said Michel Sibidé, the UNAIDS executive director. “We will never succeed in achieving zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and even zero stigma and discrimination, when women living with HIV are coerced into sterilization and abortion, or in a world where women cannot negotiate safe sex [and] a world where rape is not treated as a crime.”

ARCYNTA ALI CHILDS
and NATALIA A. BONILLA BERRIOS
UNITY AIDSNews

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A Peruvian Survivor Fights to Bridge the Gap Between Prevention and Treatment

Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki-Moon addresses member states delegates during the opening of the General Assembly 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS on Wednesday, June 8th. (Photo by Tametria Conner)

Enrique Chavez, 44, of Lima, Peru, said he’s the living face of HIV.

The South American delegate to the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS said he was not afraid of dying because, after 21 years of living with HIV, he’s still here.

“Maybe God has a plan for me, to show someone can live with HIV, not AIDS,” he said this week. “There’s a difference. … You can live if you take care of yourself.”

Chavez was told he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1990, when he was 23. He has been taking medication ever since. With recent advances in medication, Chavez, along with notable HIV patients such as Magic Johnson, are living longer and healthier lives. But Chavez said there were still disparities in treatment, care and support for HIV patients in his country.

“In Peru, 10 years ago, we didn’t have any medication and you basically waited to die,” he said. “My first experience with medication was sent from the United States.” He said there was still “a lot of discrimination and stigmas.”

As a delegate, an Aid for AIDS International advocate and a person living with HIV, Chavez said he had been fighting to bridge the gap between prevention and treatment.

“The problem is that many separate prevention and treatment,” he said, “but it has to work simultaneously.”

In addition, Chavez said, youths must be engaged in the prevention and awareness effort.

“We need to work with the youth,” he said. “This is really, really important. The youth need more opportunities and tools to equip them to make educated decisions about sex. When I contracted HIV, I didn’t have the opportunity for access or education about sex.”

Chavez said the government must follow through with previous declarations if officials wanted to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and commit to universal access to health care.

“Every five years, the government changes, and maybe they don’t have a real commitment to this cause,” he said. “In 2001 they signed an agreement, and in 2006; and now we are in 2011 and they want to sign another agreement.”

Chavez was referring to the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS in which governments made a series of time-bound commitments to expand their efforts to address HIV. Five years later, governments made a historic commitment at the United Nations to drastically ramp up the AIDS-prevention response in a Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS.

The goals and targets agreed to by member states in the United Nations General Assembly expired at the end of 2010, according to the 2011 UNAIDS Report.

Chavez challenged world leaders to make greater strides toward action this time around in a new declaration.

“When they are signing agreements, they need to do what it says,” Chavez said.

In the meantime, he said, he won’t wait around for government action but will continue to work and be the face of life and hope for HIV/AIDS patients in his country and around the world.

“This work is never going to finish,” Chavez said. “Every day you have a new challenge and you have things to do.”

TAMETRIA CONNER
UNITY AIDSNews

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UN Chief Sets 2015 Goal To Eradicate AIDS

Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Ban Ki-Moon addresses member states delegates during the opening of the General Assembly 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS on Wednesday, June 8th.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon challenged world leaders and state members delegates to end AIDS.

“Today we have a chance to end this epidemic once and for all,” Ban said during his opening address at the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS. He emphasized that new targets have to be met.

Ban said countries must share responsibility for a global plan to eradicate AIDS by 2015.
“We need all partners to come together in solidarity,” he said. “That’s the only way to reach the 2015 goal. We must commit to accountability. We must trigger a prevention effort involving the youth in order to reach the world. Every individual will get the care, treatment and support they need,” Ban said.

Ban said HIV infections are on a steep decline even in areas with a high number of cases, such as Ethiopia and South Africa. And according to UNAIDS, 33 countries have reduced the rate of new infections by at least 25 percent.

But UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that advocates cannot rest on their laurels.

“I know sometimes it’s difficult to just talk about the success stories, but it’s not time to be complacent,” Sidibé said.

There are 1.8 million people dying of AIDS every year in the developing world, he said, and 9 million people are still waiting for treatment. The number of babies born with HIV is falling, but 360,000 babies were born with HIV worldwide in 2009.

“We must revolutionize AIDS prevention and mobilize the youth in order to get to zero HIV, zero discrimination and zero HIV and AIDS related deaths,” Sidibé said, noting that more access to cheaper medication is needed for people living with HIV.

“Getting to zero means in five years, we should have simple and cheap medication available everywhere and the vaccine to eradicate this virus,” Sidibé said. “I believe it’s possible if we pursue this effort. AIDS is a story of a people breaking their silence and demanding dignity; refuting society’s wrong and defending their rights. It is a story expressing outrage and demanding human rights.
“We can have an AIDS-free world.

TAMETRIA CONNER
UNITY AIDSNews

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Turning a Lens on AIDS to Challenge Stereotypes

Independent Filmmaker and Champaign, IL native Kim D. Conner is telling her cousin's story of HIV/AIDS and refuting myths about the deadly virus through the lens in her short film "This Life Ain't Pretty."

It was the sudden death of a beloved cousin that moved Kimberly D. Conner to action.

Five years ago, Conner, a Springfield, Ill., activist and an independent filmmaker, created a film to honor her cousin, Bridgette, who died of AIDS complications in 1997. She was 28. Conner said she wanted to use her cousin’s story and her own lens to erase stigmas about HIV/AIDS.

“I want to show that it’s not something that you can basically determine on the outside by how a person looks or their character,” Conner said.

Conner said she is challenging world leaders at this week’s U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS to focus on awareness and prevention.

“Even after 30 years, there’s still much work to be done, especially when it comes to erasing myths about this HIV/AIDS,” she said. “This is not just a disease in Africa. And there are still so many people unaware of the importance of knowing your status.”

Her film, “This Life Ain’t Pretty,” had its debut on World AIDS Day in 2009. Conner has since taken the 38-minute film across the country, sharing it with thousands of people, including college students, prisoners and elderly people. She said she produced “This Life” to challenge stereotypical beliefs about HIV/AIDS among young, black heterosexuals in America.

“We have to change the way that we think about people that have the disease,” she said, “and that’s one of the things I hope this film accomplishes.”

The film tells the story of a single mother, Brittney, who contracts HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from her estranged husband. In the film, Brittney tells her story from the grave.

“She had never used drugs. She was never promiscuous, none of the things that we tend to think you have to do to get it,” Conner said.

Her goal, she said, is to educate, inspire and share hard facts.

“We are the face of HIV/AIDS, and there are still a lot of people out there that don’t believe that,” Conner said, referring to young African American women ages 18 to 24 who are contracting HIV faster than any other group. African American women account for the majority of new AIDS cases among women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conner’s cousin, Bridgette, contracted HIV at 24.

Heritage Health and Housing, a nonprofit agency committed to promoting healthy lifestyles through health education initiatives and providing access to health care to traditionally underserved populations in New York City, will feature “This Life Ain’t Pretty” as part of its HIV/AIDS Health Education Film Series this month.

TAMETRIA CONNER
UNITY AIDSNews

 

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More Coverage

It’s Hot Out Here!

NEW YORK _ Delegates and heads of state had to contend with triple digit heat on Thursday, the second day of historic high level meetings on AIDS at the United Nations. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the New York area, after forecasting midday temperatures would climb to 99 degrees – and [...]

U.S. Researcher Assists AIDS Fight in Africa

Thirty years ago June 5, a young UCLA researcher published articles about otherwise healthy gay young patients experiencing fungal infections. That doctor was Michael Gottlieb. He reported what would become known as the first cases of AIDS. Within weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked around New York and San Francisco and [...]

Battle Brews Over a Controversial Procedure: Transplanting HIV-Infected Organs

A fight is brewing in this country, although you may be unaware of it. This battle is not between Google and Bing, or Republicans and Democrats. It’s a fight between advocates and lawmakers, and it’s over the use of HIV-infected organs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines to encourage research [...]

Human, Civil Rights Crucial to Prevention Efforts, U.S. Rep Says

Countries must protect human and civil rights as they move toward treating HIV and AIDS as a health issue, not a criminal matter, said world policymakers attending the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS. Members of parliament and nongovernmental organizations from nearly 50 countries on Tuesday debated ways to improve policies in HIV prevention, [...]

UNAIDS Pledges to Strengthen Collaboration With Faith-Based Groups

The doors of St. Mary’s Outreach Center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, were shut for a few weeks in December. Its closing meant about 900 patients living with HIV/AIDS could not get testing services, prevention workshops and treatment. St. Mary’s shutdown was emblematic of the funding shortfalls facing many of the churches and faith-based organizations fighting [...]

Peaceful Protest Spotlights Strong Passion in AIDS Fight

Chants, songs and shouts comprised a chaotic but peaceful protest to bring awareness to the need for funding and research in the fight against AIDS. The march, which drew protestors from around the world Wednesday morning, coincided with the opening day of the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS. The marchers converged on Bryant [...]

‘First Ladies’ Panel Focuses on Children Facing the Disease

During a recent Feast of Mothers event, Haiti’s first lady met pregnant mothers who were HIV-positive and hoped to give birth to children uninfected with the disease. The prognosis for the women and their unborn children are not great, but Sophia Saint Remy Martelly is committed to changing those odds. “We want to make that [...]

A Peruvian Survivor Fights to Bridge the Gap Between Prevention and Treatment

Enrique Chavez, 44, of Lima, Peru, said he’s the living face of HIV. The South American delegate to the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS said he was not afraid of dying because, after 21 years of living with HIV, he’s still here. “Maybe God has a plan for me, to show someone can [...]

UN Chief Sets 2015 Goal To Eradicate AIDS

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon challenged world leaders and state members delegates to end AIDS. “Today we have a chance to end this epidemic once and for all,” Ban said during his opening address at the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS. He emphasized that new targets have to be met. Ban said [...]

Turning a Lens on AIDS to Challenge Stereotypes

It was the sudden death of a beloved cousin that moved Kimberly D. Conner to action. Five years ago, Conner, a Springfield, Ill., activist and an independent filmmaker, created a film to honor her cousin, Bridgette, who died of AIDS complications in 1997. She was 28. Conner said she wanted to use her cousin’s story [...]