“What do you expect from the World Aids Conference 2016?” is one of the common questions asked in the last week. Well, what does one expect from a conference with more than 15000 participants in a country which was hit the most from the pandemic. Insights into new developments? I guess the most important factor for me is being able to get an overview first hand what is going on the world of HIV and AIDS around the globe. It is indeed the direct contact with activists and researchers where I learn the most – while listening to their experience and insights – and which makes the trip to Durban worth time and effort. Communication, exchange, but also the feeling not to be alone in the fight against the pandemic leaves on with the resolve of continuing the work one is doing locally.
Durban 2016 is so different from the previous World Aids Conference held in Durban in 2000. At that time it was despair, hopelessness and the ignorance of politics which ruled the situation in South Africa. It was the time when HOPE Cape Town was born out of the need to stop the dying of children and parents. So Durban 2016 is also about achievements, about the millions on treatment, the figure of new mother-to-child transmission slowly going towards zero and the great feeling, that we from HOPE Cape Town have been part of this unbelievable journey of hope and frustration, often changing first place in the matter of an eye-blink.
There is still so much to do – the transmission rate in South Africa is still scary high, other countries also register more new infections and a vaccine seems to be still far away. There are still millions of South Africans dealing with stigma and discrimination on various levels. There is still so much stigma attached, so much fear and anxiety when it comes to dealing with HIV and Aids. We are definitely not there where we want to be, and the next 10 years will be crucial in the attempt to make a new generation of zero new infections a reality. Given the moment state of affair in South Africa, all the service delivery protests, corruption, political ignorance and the still wounded society there is more than a question mark to put behind the question: Will we achieve a victory? HIV is more than a medical syndrome, it has to do with poverty, with hunger, with despair, with job creation, with investments, with intact families, with proper sex education, with the end of religious bias towards moral questions – and obviously when looking at it globally the amount of resources will depend on how governments want to spend their money. Looking at madness of violence and terrorism, racism and war it seems that HIV will continue to have only a backseat. And this might compromise the achievements reached till today.