Thought Leadership

Activism at the International Conference of AIDS

The International AIDS conferences and activism are inextricably linked. Many aspects of the pandemic and our response have been shaped by activists. The historical approach to infectious diseases prior to HIV was one of containment, quarantine and isolation…as we attempted to restrict transmission. But HIV, with its long incubation period, its prevalence initially in marginalised populations led to a movement that eventually resulted in a human rights approach to the response involving voluntary counselling, informed consent, involvement of civil society  etc. There are several heroes that defined the response and continue to do so. The work of activists makes the International AIDS conference different from any other medical conference you could possibly attend and makes us think beyond odds, ratios and confidence intervals…..a good thing!

Right from the opening ceremony of this conference, activists made their voices heard asking the G8 countries about their broken promises….

And you cannot be at this conference and miss Paula Akugizibwe of ARASA. (AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa)…passionate, knowledgeable and articulate…. 
Below are images from ARASA’s advocacy campaign on the proliferate spending of our “leaders” (we should do something similar for our senators in Nigeria)
Then there were the Catholics for Choice who insist that good Catholics use condoms…
And you could not miss Annie Lennox even if you tried…she brought all her stardom to bear drawing attention to AIDS, linking it all back to the effect Madiba had on her life…
The President and Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign to whom we have a whole lot to be thankful for on the continent, for his sustained campaign enabling more people to have access to ARVs…
And if you want to learn about how counselling evolved with the pandemic in Africa and the engagement of the community and people living with HIV, then you have to study the The AIDS Support Organisation of Uganda. The founder, Noerine Kaleeba below…phenomenal woman.
…..and do you recognise these faces?
…or these ones?

…and finally no prizes for guessing the proudest country around these days 🙂 Don’t you envy them? Their Deputy Prime Minister spoke at the opening ceremony, and their Minister of Health was a plenary speaker. I know what you are thinking…but don’t bother asking. And you would think that our new Minister of Health would be here…but what can we say?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

2 replies on “Activism at the International Conference of AIDS”

Indeed phenomenal, what has been achieved by the HIV/AIDS movement. One can only hope that other aspects of health in Africa, including equitable health care provision,achieve the same momentum and follower-ship such as has been achieved by HIV/AIDS.

Africa has myriad public health problems; Maternal and child health issues(not neccessarily linked to HIV/AIDS), Mental health, weak systems of health care delivery, to name but a few. These, by virtue of their significance to the health and productivity of populations, have human rights implications. This to my mind, means a need for activism such as is enjoyed by HIV/AIDS, to aid in the critical job of bridging the gap between available best evidence research and discernable/tangible improvements in the lives of the man, woman and child on Africa’s streets and in Its villages..

We are indeed challenged to do more in HIV/AIDS, as well as in other aspects of health and health care delivery in our country Nigeria as well as on our continent..

Thanks for sharing Chikwe. Reading your posts make me feel like I am there. And makes me realise what I’m missing! Next time maybe.

I’m so proud of HIV activists, heck most activists. ‘To put feelings into
positive action is a powerful antidote for hopelessness’. Lets keep talking.

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