This post comes from ‘M’, a member of The Teen Spirit Board of Directors, a peer mentor at Body & Soul, St George’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals and a Life in my Shoes Ambassador at the AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington DC
Finally the day arrived and I was on my way to the ‘Living 2012 Conference’
. I honestly did not know what expect, but I did anticipate leaving the conference feeling inspired by many people across the world.
As the only representative from Body & Soul at the conference I felt a sense of responsibility for youth living with HIV in the UK. As this was not a youth
conference many elders and experienced professionals in their field surrounded me. The majority had visited previous conferences before hand. Automatically I decided to take the stance to learn from these individuals so when I return to the UK I can talk to young people, at Teen Spirit and further afield, about what I learnt.
Whilst waiting for the conference to start, a Church leader from Senegal greeted me. He informed me of the battle he faced in Africa living with HIV and how it has developed him into a stronger person, leading him to Washington D.C.
I left the conversation inspired and hopeful. Inspired by such a wise and articulate man, and hopeful for those living with HIV, that they had such advocates all over the world.
The day was split into talks and mini workshops/break out sessions. Cornelius Baker spoke about FHI 360
and the history of the Living conferences. He stated that, “addressing the HIV epidemic is more than addressing cells, it’s about addressing peoples lives…” He challenged us to be creative and to “turn the tide”. Their were also talks from Anna Zakowicz
and Kate Thompson.
For me, the most enjoyable part were the ‘break-out’ sessions. We were challenged with a topic and we had to identify the problem and construct solutions.
Sometimes the solutions were very optimistic, but I still admired the passionate responses to each problem.
As a mentor at Body & Soul and both St George’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London, I have witnessed first-hand the effectiveness of psychosocial support.
This was a major topic and we identified the need for more people to support those living with HIV. We realised that there are issues with this specific
support system, for example presenting sufficient evidence for funding purposes, whilst battling with the confidentiality agreement made between the
mentee and patient.
We also discussed that ‘adherence increases when people have support around them’ and how ‘HIV is more than a health issue. It should be dealt in a social aspect to help health’.
On day two we collected various information and ideas. We were now ready to construct a documentation for those in power to read. We spent the morning
splitting into break out sessions, but this time each session had a specific topic. I chose to go into the group discussing Religion and HIV and Funding.
As a Christian this interested me and also gave me insight into how many people are actually dying due to mis-informed messages from religious leaders. Also there are people who were rejected from their religious groups due to their HIV status and sexual orientation. Their stories were very painful.
Body & Soul is based in London and working with Body & Soul I have become very accustomed to identifying issues in regards to United Kingdom. The Living conference brought the world’s issues into perspective, identifying problems which I had never anticipated. Each country has its own issue and it would be wrong of me to say which issue takes priority above another, because all these problems narrow down to the health of a fellow being. The living conference has existed for many years and HIV is still an issue in the lives of all the people of the world.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussions we were having today were similar to the last conference. Those living with HIV should be ready to speak up to those in in an influential position, or no change will occur. But for this to happen, something must be done to address the stigma surrounding the virus.