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Reality Bites

The 12th International AIDS Conference in Durban had plenty to offer positive women but couldn't address the real problems.
A member of Positive Women Victoria reports on her first experience at an international HIV/AIDS gathering.


I was happy to find this program overflowing with sexual and reproductive issues, gynaecological issues, women's issues and much more.


On my first day I was in awe of my registration kit, which was bigger than a telephone directory and lost amongst a sea of conference goers who seemed to all know what was going on. On studying the program and abstracts I began to get a sense of what was about to happen over the next week. Being a woman I was used to being disappointed at conferences about the lack of reference to women's and heterosexual issues. So I was happy to find this program overflowing with sexual and reproductive issues, gynaecological issues, women's issues and much more. Brilliant!


The conference opened with a spectacular show of color, acts, songs and dance that both lifted the spirit, and pulled at the heartstrings. HIV and AIDS is real in Africa. It is everyday and in every family. This was felt earlier in the voices of those infected and affected by AIDS that rose and fell in song, speech, and dance at the march we attended for access to treatments. This feeling of hope, and hopelessness continued throughout the week.


My main focus at the conference was reproductive issues of HIV Positive women and men, as well as infant feeding. I guess my passion lies there as I have been through the dilemmas of deciding to have a child, how to go about it, what medications to take, to caesar or not to caesar, and dealing with issues around infant feeding. These may seem like easy decisions, but, when every choice you make can affect the future health of your child, they become major life choices. The sessions I attended updated me on the latest theories and practice around these issues.


Watching the effect that the African people had on those of us from developed countries was interesting. Doctors, scientists, Professors and statisticians, got to see for the first time in most cases the reality of AIDS in countries where drugs, care and support, and prevention campaigns are either limited or not available. Those that say to have safe sex, or to bottle feed, or to just say no, or to eat healthy well-balanced meals possibly realised that it is not so easy.


How can someone have safe sex when there is no access to condoms, or can't afford them? How can a woman bottle feed when she doesn't have access to clean water, or know how to sterilise equipment, or can't not afford formula, and is likely to be ostracised by her community? How does a woman say no to sex when she is brought up by her society to please men, and not to question their wishes? How can you eat a balanced meal when you can't find food enough to eat once a day? These and many more questions were asked and answered by the courageous stories told by PLWHA, those affected by the virus, and those working in the field. I believe a lot of people went home with different views and outlooks, and a better understanding of what is happening, particularly in African, Asian and Eastern European countries where 90% of the HIV infection is found.


The conference came to a close after a very busy week. Nelson Mandela was the keynote speaker at the closing ceremony. I have never felt the strength of power this man can bring into a room. The room filled with a feeling of respect, adoration, spirit, and hope as the Africans burst into song of praise. It was an amazing moment!

To sum the conference up in a few words I would say it was just what the people who attended needed reality. There was reality in abundance in Durban, in the faces of the people, in the words they spoke, in the tears that were shed, and in the lives that have been lost.

written by a member of Positive Women Victoria. Story add to the site 2000.

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