AIDS activists complain conference ignored them

ZIMBABWE: AIDS activists complain conference ignored them

HARARE, 18 Jun 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - Zimbabwe's first national AIDS conference ended in acrimony on Friday, with AIDS activists complaining that they had been sidelined from the high-profile event.

In a statement circulated among delegates at the three-day conference, People Living with AIDS (PWAs) accused the National AIDS Council (NAC) and the Ministry of Health, the co-organisers of the event, of ignoring their inputs while giving medical experts and dignitaries the opportunity to air their views uninterrupted.

"We have long said that HIV and AIDS is not a health issue, but a developmental issue. We are tired of panellists ... [and] doctors telling us acronyms - "scientific" evidence that has nothing to do with the reality we are living under," said the statement.

"Without the positive voice, without the women and men living with the virus, where would they get the specimens for their laboratories, their so-called evidence?", it added.

Activist Felix Dzotizeyi, who managed to bulldoze his way into the conference after being denied entry, said those who were supposed to have been at the forefront of the event had been marginalised by the organisers.

"What we want are ways in which we can live positively with the scourge, and not what we have experienced here," said Dzotizeyi.

Activist Softain Moyo of the Pan-African Access to Treatment Campaign Movement said the real work on prevention and care was being done at the grassroots level. "There was a need to mobilise community groups to say what they are doing," she argued. "Programmes can only be sustainable if they are community-owned."

However, health minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said the conference represented all stakeholders, and was not aware that PWAs had not been given a platform to speak.

The conference ended with recommendations urging government and civil society to build on and intensify prevention efforts. It was important to involve PWAs in all aspects of the response, and improve access to antiretroviral therapy. The conference also acknowledged that training and skills development in all aspects of the AIDS response needed to be improved.


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