Reclaiming Indigenous Voices: Our Lives. Our Health. Our Future.

International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS
Written by: Trevor Stratton IIWGHA Coordinator

Have you ever been to an International AIDS Conference?

I remember attending my first one in Toronto in 2006 (AIDS 2006). It was crowded with hard working community activists, academics, researchers, doctors and professionals.

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I was overwhelmed. I was confused and I felt like my lone HIV-positive Indigenous voice couldn’t possibly be heard above what seemed like chaos.

And then I found the Indigenous Networking Zone in the Global Village at AIDS 2006. I found all my relations there and they were talking about HIV in a way that I could understand. They listened to me. I felt like I found a good home base in that giant conference.

iiwgha-26th International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS
Weaving Together the Stories of Indigeneity and HIV in Southern Africa Reclaiming Indigenous Voices

This year, AIDS 2016 will take place in Durban, South Africa from July 18-22. And the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS will be holding their 6th International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS called Reclaiming Indigenous Voices: Our Lives, Our Health, Our Future in Durban right before AIDS 2016 on July 16 and 17 at the Protea Hotel Umhlanga Ridge, Umhalanga Ridge, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Some of the invited delegates include the Honourable Canadian Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, Provincial Minister of Health for KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo, the Mayor of Durban, James Nxumalo and the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé.

Our AIDS 2016 affiliated Pre-conference is an opportunity for Indigenous peoples from all over the world to share wise and promising practices, learn from each other and build relationships across continents, cultures, traditions, and languages. Again, this year the Pre-conference will highlight the Indigenous Peoples the world but particularly in Southern Africa to explore the context of Indigeneity and HIV in their regions and communities.

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International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS website: www.aids2016community.org/category/iiwgha

Why an Indigenous Pre-conference to AIDS 2016?

According to the 2006 UNAIDS report, social determinants of health such as poverty, marginalization, limited access to health care, low literacy rates, geographical isolation, drug use, lack of political and social power, lack of cohesion in family and community relationships, low self-esteem and generally poor overall health have created an over-representation of Indigenous people in the HIV epidemic.

Indigenous Peoples are often labeled as “at risk” or inherently “risky”. Being Indigenous is not the risk factor. What actually puts Indigenous Peoples at risk is racism, colonialism, violence perpetrated by nation states and multinational corporations, intergenerational trauma, and not having access to culturally safe care, treatment, and support. Our Pre-conference is a forum to share how to address these barriers.

South Africa plays an important role as the host country because it has the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 6.19 million people living with HIV. Back in 2000, when Nelson Mandela addressed the 12,000 participants at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, no one knew what the future held for the AIDS response. Access to lifesaving antiretroviral drugs was very limited, and donor spending on AIDS activities was a small fraction of today’s funding.

Yet 16 years later we return to Durban at another pivotal moment in the epidemic. Breakthroughs in HIV prevention and treatment have largely given us the means to end the epidemic, but if we do not speed up the pace of progress we risk reversing hard-won gains. Critical to that progress is the role of Indigenous peoples who continue to be over-represented globally.

Getting To Zero

Only with the meaningful engagement of Indigenous peoples will UNAIDS realize its goal of Getting to Zero by the year 2030: Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths.

Inspired by unprecedented progress over the last several years, the international AIDS community, including the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), has embraced the ambition of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

In order to get there, the Fast Track strategy, which is to be achieved by 2020, has been adopted. This Fast Track Strategy is called “90-90-90”: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

The targets are firmly based on an approach grounded in human rights that leaves no one behind. Indigenous people don’t want to be the 10% left behind. But will Indigenous Peoples be the 10 10 10 left over from the 90 90 90 Fast Track Strategy?

www.iiwgha.org

Filed Under: Summer 2016 Newsletter

About the Author: Brought to you by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN).

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