09/08/2013

Peace as an Antidote against HIV

Panamá - Revista Ellas - August 9th, 2013


Her red hair and long fingernails, always painted blue, are her trademark. Working for the rights of people living with HIV and ensuring that they have a better quality of life, is her constant struggle.

The Argentine Patricia Pérez is president of The More Peace Less AIDS Foundation and is a founding member of The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW). She has been nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize and was appointed last year to be member of the very first UN WOMEN Global Civil Society Advisory Group created by the former executive-director Michelle Bachelet.

Pérez is 51 years old and has been living with the virus for 27 years.

She visited our country mid-July to coordinate the establishment of The More Peace Less AIDS Foundation headquarters for the Americas in Panama. The head office will be officially set up by the end of the year. Currently, the organization has its global headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Pérez learned that she had HIV when her partner got diagnosed. It happened in the 1980’s when she was the mother of a six-year-old child and did not have access to much information on the virus. Patricia remembers her thoughts at the time: “It was an infection that had to do with the gay male population, with substance abusers or addicts. Women were not present anywhere in the statistics, we were invisible”.

Encouraged by two colleagues, Pérez attended her very first conference about people living with HIV/AIDS in 1991. It took place in London, England. It was also the first time she had ever travelled by plane. It was at this meeting that she met other women afflicted by the virus and who, like her, felt discriminated against and lacked space to deal with the problems afecting them. It was in the Netherlands the following year that Patricia reunited with these women to found ICW GLOBAL.

For non-violence. Pérez was Secretary-General of Latin America  & the Carribean for the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW Latina) and subsequently became Global President of ICW for three years.

She explains that The More Peace Less AIDS Foundation, in which she is the current president, arose from a campaign that ICW Global started to prevent non-violence against women and peace as an opportunity to overcome AIDS. She added the following comments: “When you talk about AIDS, you are talking about prevention, if you are in a difficult environment where you cannot talk about prevention, this is because you first have to solve the issues in your area, the violence or whatever it may be. It is then that you can carry out preventive HIV action and take any other actions that might be necessary”.

The Foundation connects peace and AIDS and works to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence and discrimination at home, in the workplace, in schools or in communities. 

“If a woman has an unhealthy relationship and suffers from domestic violence, she cannot tell her partner to wear a condom” says Pérez. She adds the examples of a child or teen being discriminated in college by being HIV-positive or knowing someone who is. She reminds us of when political leaders direct more resources to their armies, rather than to the education or health sectors of their societies. She concludes: “They are prioritizing issues that have nothing to do with people’s well-being or a good quality of life, but instead, war”.

For this reason, the Foundation also works in political advocacy. “We understand that political leaders have to take initiative on peace and AIDS issues. We work to construct programs to show them that there is a reality that exists that they cannot see from their desks” explains Pérez.

Work to be done. In the years that she has been working with people living with HIV, Pérez has acknowledged that there has been development in the scientific aspect of the disease, but that progress is still needed. She quotes a United Nations report which reveals that 53% of people living with the virus in the world do not obtain treatment. Only 47% of HIV-positive individuals receive it.

She claims: “I cannot understand how by 2013, after 30 years, we still have more than half of those affected who need treatment that they have no access too. I understand the pharmaceutical companies, I understand the government yet someone has to change this. There are problems in many countries, I know this, but this is also a real issue and too much goes underreported”.

She talks about how some countries do not buy the necessary treatment needed for their citizens and that the afflicted person must pay for them. She stresses that free treatment should be mandatory in all countries.

In terms of her opinion on Panama’s situation, Pérez states that sex education should be improved. She believes that it is necessary to teach young people on how to practice sex freely, but responsibly.

“We are not talking about people who have constant affairs, we are talking about the fact that sexuality exists. We need to work with teens so as to educate them on practicing sex in a responsible manner. This is accomplished within the very first years of schooling and by of course taking in the maturity of each student into consideration and from there, programs can be created,” she closes.