05/02/2009

The More Peace Less AIDS Campaign Visits Donostia

Spain –La Hora Newspaper– February 5th, 2009

“A lot has been achieved in the fight against AIDS, but information is still lacking… How can we give treatment in areas without potable drinking water?” reflected Patricia Pérez during her quick visit to Donostia.

It is said that the third time’s a charm and if this is true, Patricia Pérez will get the Nobel Peace Prize this year following her third nomination. She is one of the founding members of The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW Global) that now has over 8,000 members in 57 countries. Yesterday, she gave the inaugural lecture at the Second Fipse Meeting on Social Research on HIV/AIDS which is currently being celebrated in Donostia.

It is 1986, she is 24 years old and is a gym teacher in Buenos Aires and… she discovers that she is HIV-positive. “I felt many feelings at the time they gave me the results. Back then, it was not like it is now, treatment did not exist, even for people who had money and as a result, people died. When someone is diagnosed today they talk about more sophisticated worries like discrimination or work problems. In addition, at the time, I felt physically fine, yet the doctor told me that I only had two years left to live. This was hard news to take and in order to get my results it was a very difficult process. I had a young child and I asked myself: Now what? What will happen with this disease?”

She had HIV, yet she was a woman: “They spoke about AIDS like it was something that only had to do with gay people, the press induced term “GRID”, there was talk of drug addicts and women did not exist in the picture at all. This was not only happening to me. In 1991, we met women from various countries at an activity on HIV-positive individuals and we saw that we did not exist in the statistics. We felt such solidarity by being in the same situation… There was no one to turn to for help, because people were looking at other causes that had to do with AIDS, but they were not looking at women”.

Two decades later, things have changed. It is different now, because today an HIV-positive individual will know that treatment exists and that while sometimes it is not so easy, one can still access the necessary medication. Globalization serves this purpose. It has accomplished a lot, but some things are still lacking. “I think that AIDS is the only disease in which over 25 years prevention has accomplished so much such as scientific advances, social mobilization, resource distribution and a great political impact. However, I still believe that more specific and faster things can be done to help those affected by the disease”.

 What main gap exists in the fight against AIDS? The lack of information. Information and training is essential. A person with HIV has to be well-informed and aware of their rights.

What about work? Why do people discriminate? They do so by fear because there are things that they do not know about. One discriminates against another when they are completely different and that has to do with the first individual not receiving enough education on the issue. Education is essential and it should be something that is built upon every day. You cannot suddenly ask a 17 year old boy or girl to use a condom when it was not said previously. This process needs to be less complicated and more natural. In the work place, discrimination usually occurs because of economic reasons. Employers are usually afraid to hire someone living with HIV because it involves more wasting of resources and the possibility that the employed will miss work. Here, adequate legislation is needed, but a well-informed entrepreneur knows that this will not happen.

Are prevention campaigns efficient? After 25 years, we are still dealing with AIDS using old methods. When it is said that people have not paid as much attention as they should have, I think about teaching kids about the issue as soon as they can understood it. It is like if you tell a young child that there never is trash to throw out on the street, after a while they will eventually embrace the idea and as a result, will never do it. HIV/AIDS education needs to be a natural process and it needs to be accessible to every type of group.  New and updated tools are needed to run these activities, since old fashion “discussion groups” are a little bit overused.

For example, we recently created and edited two CDs. We asked the artists for a song and an inspirational HIV/AIDS prevention message. We could have included a message ourselves, but we thought that they would make more of an effect on the public.

The challenge now is to ensure that the AIDS response is more real than virtual. Foundational ideas are still lacking and response as well. If you look at the example of the quality of drugs in many places in Africa and Latin America, there is a problem, as the countries have an antiretroviral treatment program but there is no potable drinking water.