The World Aids Conference got people together in one country, one city from all over the world. Approximately 26,000 scientists, doctors, educators and world health organizations attended the conference. There were people who are HIV+ and those who are HIV-. It occurred to me that HIV/AIDS is something that affects all of us globally.
The conference was held at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The conference was attended by high profile people like Bill Gates, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave the official conference opening speech, and many other professionals from different areas of the medical, political and business fields.
There were so many activities that people attended, such as dance and musical performances, plays, even marches and demonstrations. I especially enjoyed the Global Village, which is where most of the performances took place. You would find people expressing themselves and showing others what their countries are about. I met a man whose whole body was painted in red. He told me, "Even if I am thousands of miles away from home, I will always represent my country." My GlobalGirl colleague, Mandisa Madikane, taught others the Kwasa dance, which was very popular a few years ago in our home country, South Africa. There were also people selling artwork and crafts to raise money for their organizations.
Not all of the activities took place at the Convention Center. We attended a Press Conference at a nearby hotel about the relationship between a South Africa nation-wide publicity campaign and its impact on the use of condoms. Lusanda Mahlasela, a researcher from John Hopkins University, lead a discussion about the improvements in condom use and its impact on HIV/Aids. According to Mahlasela, "Strong and visible political leadership from the President, Deputy President and the Health Minister as part of the bold and innovative communication campaigns have brought about positive changes in condom use, HIV testing, male circumcision and pubic attitudes towards the disease, which can only make prevention and treatment much easier over the next five years."
We had an opportunity to attend a press conference held for the South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi. He had information on where South Africa stands on the issue of HIV/AIDS and I was glad to hear that the reported infection rate has decreased and the use of condoms has increased. My colleague Mandisa asked the minister a personal question about how to deal with discrimination as an HIV positive young woman living in South Africa. She wanted a motivational answer from the minister who said, "you mustn't get scared, stigma has dropped. Compared to three years ago, it is going down. With all the leaders testing publicly and encouraging people to get tested many of us will support you"
Minister Motsoaledi also promised Mandisa that if anyone discriminates against her because of her status, she must contact his office ask for him directly and he will deal with the culprits personally, "and that's a promise." Mandisa was happy knowing that she was protected by the highest office. Now, who wouldn't LOVE that?