Universal Action: Now or in Vienna?

Daniel Townsend

How much closer did the 2008 International AIDS Conference bring us to realizing its theme, Universal Access Now?

Having just returned home from my second
international AIDS conference, maybe I shouldn’t be too critical:
It is quite a feat to plan and successfully execute these conferences,
and for advocates, they provide a space to gather to celebrate the success
within the HIV and AIDS movement, highlight the struggles of the past,
discuss the challenges of the present and chart the way forward. 

But how much closer did the conference
bring us to realizing its theme, Universal
Access Now

Clearly, Universal Access Now
reflects the success sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates
have had in shaping the long-term global response to the pandemic. 
Yet I still can’t help but feel that we are still stuck in Toronto
waiting for global funders and policymakers to deliver on this promise.

In Mexico, I heard the same rhetoric
claiming that we have succeeded in providing vulnerable populations
with access to prevention, treatment, care and support.  
At the same time, recently released UNAIDS data shows that the rate
of new infections in many countries continues to skyrocket.

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My experience working with youth in
the Caribbean, which has the second highest rate of new infections,
has been challenging–there is a lot of talk about what to do and little
action.  Developing a sustainable and effective response to the
epidemic in the Caribbean, and the entire world, is even more urgent
today given the fact that half of new infections occur in young people.

I have heard little from global AIDS
leaders and funders about how we will stop new infections among young
people, and little action towards ensuring that young people have access
to comprehensive sexuality education, male and female condoms and the
reproductive health services that can provide them with the tools they
need to protect their health and realize their rights. 

So what do we do now? Will everyone
go back to their organizations and do what they have always done? Or
will we find a new way forward? 

The fact is that the work that truly
meets the needs of the people who are affected and infected by HIV and
AIDS is happening at the grassroots level. It is in the space where
conference themes and panel sessions do not matter, a space where challenges
remain and the work must still be done. This won’t change even as
we wait for universal action.

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