08 August 2008

The Revolution will be led by a 12 year old girl

And so it is with the gleeful cries of a mariachi band that AIDS 2008 draws to a close. The crystal globe has been passed to the organisers of Vienna 2010, the pharmaceutical companies are already back in the bosom of their families having packed up and gone last night, and the giant cartoon condom costumes that look spookily like Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde have been crated up and sent back to the mysterious warehouse that no doubt also contains the Ark of the Covenant, assorted aliens and a slightly irradiated fridge, where they will remain for another two years until called once more into action to inform, educate and serve as humorous photo opportunities for child and adult alike.

I am sitting in a half empty media room, surrounded by the remnants of the press corps eagerly filing their final reports spurred on by the (wait for it) anticipation of muchos cervezas and tequilas grande (I only hope they are as hampered by the Spanish language keyboard as I am). Those who are left work mainly for specialist media, health journals, activist magazines and other less mainstream publications (I am pretty sure that the guy beside me writes for a French rubber fetish magazine, judging by his homepage, rather than any personal knowledge or insight into that particular world). The closing speakers praised the media for being here and highlighting the work that is being done, and while it is true that the Mexican media have provided blanket coverage of the event, from watching and reading international news sources I have seen little impact beyond these shores.

The Irish media has no presence here, the only report of the conference in the Irish Times this week was pulled off the Reuters wire, and that focused on an American report outlining the increasingly higher risk of infection for men who have sex with men (MSM). I am disappointed in this approach by our newspaper of record as it serves only to solidify the stereotypical impression of AIDS as a pandemic that only affects one particular group in society.

According to the World Health Organisation, of the almost 4,500 cases of HIV/AIDS reported up to 2006 in Ireland, 40% of infections occurred through heterosexual contact, 32% through intravenous drug use and only 23% of cases were reported amongst men who have sex with men. 54% of all new infections in Ireland in 2006 were from heterosexual contact, and MSM only accounted for 27%.

What this conference has shown me is that, above all else, AIDS is a disease of poverty and ignorance, affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised in any society. In America it is a disease of black women, in Russia it effects intravenous drug users, in Thailand it affects sex workers, and so on. But by focusing on only one group in any culture, it gives the impression that all other groups are unaffected, leading to risky behaviour by the mainstream, and the further marginalisation of those at the edges.

In 2005 UNAIDS estimated that if every donor and country honoured their pledges and commitments for funding HIV/AIDS related programs, in 2006 approximately $8.3 billion would be available globally. The same report projected that $22.1 Billion would need to be spent in 2008 to keep prevention and treatment at the same level. There are currently 33 Million people infected with HIV/AIDS, 2.5 million of which are children, and 2 million people died as a result of infection in 2007 alone.

The Chinese government have spent over $40 Billion on the Olympic Games, an event that lasts for two weeks and will see 10,000 athletes compete - $40 Billion being spent on arguably the 10,000 healthiest people in the world, almost double the amount the UN says is needed for 33 million of the most marginalised.

In Ireland RTE are broadcasting 1,500 hours of Olympics coverage for an Irish team of only 54 atheletes. With over 4,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Ireland RTE had zero hours of coverage from Mexico City.

This year's conference paid special attention to the youth of the world who are living with HIV/AIDS, at risk, or affected by the HIV/AIDS status of their parents. An effort was made to hear their voice, with youth participants in sessions, youth reporters covering the event and events focused on the young people of the world. The Conference opened with the words of 12 year old Keren Dunaway-González, living with HIV and facing the imminent death of her own infected parents; all she asked for was a chance to grow up and experience all the things a normal teenager would do. The next day posters appeared throughout the conference proclaiming that "The Revolution will be led by a twelve year old girl".

Seeing the mess the rest of us are making of things I seriously hope it is.

UNAIDS resource tracking reports
WHO report on Ireland


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