Reflections on the AIDS 2016 Conference
by Kananelo Khalla
The 21st International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa was the greatest experience for me. I was one of more than 15,000 attendees from around the world who participated in AIDS 2016, where I met amazing people from different countries and backgrounds who are living with HIV.
It truly touched me to be in a room full of people, feeling safe and supported to talk about my life with HIV. I recall thinking that, with our combined experiences, we can really end the HIV epidemic. As a recruited peer educator from a poor family background and a rural community of Lesotho, I aim to bring back to my community discussions and exchanges from the conference, which were of the highest quality.
At the conference, some important discussions were held around criminalization, self-stigma, research tools driven by people living with HIV, HIV-positive adolescents, foundations for HIV, and the linkage between HIV and reproductive health services. Perhaps the most burning questions were around how to approach universal treatment in a time of reduced funding, and how networks of people living with HIV, including infected adolescents, can contribute most.
We are working to decrease the fear of HIV/AIDS among young people and end the epidemic, but we do so in a setting of scarce resources. Networks of people living with HIV are struggling to be funded, making our programming, including implementation of new campaigns and projects, more difficult.
The movement of people living with HIV needs to join forces along a common and ambitious vision and purpose. We need solidarity amongst ourselves, and we need to be inclusive of all key populations of Lesotho. We can turn the experience of being Durban as an opportunity to change Lesotho, for an AIDS-free generation would be one of our greatest gifts our nation could give to our collective future. HIV/AIDS is merely a disease, and as we have never before had a disease we could not conquer, I believe we can conquer it during my lifetime.
As HIV-positive adolescents within the Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation – Lesotho network of HIV/AIDS care and treatment, we are defining and reiterating a collective strategy that clearly articulates what adolescents living with HIV can do. We have to capitalize on our motivation from our experience in the field of HIV/AIDS, and claim our role in supporting treatment literacy, access, and adherence. To make our experience of being in Durban as selected delegate more effective, we must sure that our efforts don’t end when the conference ended, but that we continue working towards an HIV/AIDS-free generation.
Lastly, having visions without actions is like daydreaming, but visions with actions can change the world. We may be young, but we have the energy to make the difference in Lesotho. All we need is emotional and financial support to help us make our dreams become reality around the world.