As I write this, I’m still scrambling to make final travel arrangements but the IAS scholarship committee came through in the end. It’s an exciting opportunity to see part of the world that is completely foreign to me and participate in something quite momentous, in common with something like 15.000 delegates from around the world.
Its’s also a conference whose time has arrived. It has been said many, many times now we have the tools to end the epidemic. Treatment as prevention and PrEP, for example, hold great, often unfulfilled promise. With political will and savvy, it’s not unrealistic to predict the epidemic will be all but a memory by 2030, in fact. But meanwhile, there is much work to be done. Even in Canada there are huge disparities to be addressed where the epidemic rages on in marginalized populations and where we lag in uptake of almost everything new. And of course the global scourges of HIV stigma and criminalization will not disappear with a once-daily pull.
But then there are matters of conscience. On my Facebook page, I dwelt on what it feels like to be included in those privileged to participate in expensive conferences like this I said this:
“I'm very pleased although not without reservations. For example I don't like 23 hour plane flights. But being accepted also raises issues of inclusion, exclusion and privilege which can't be ignored.
The HIV community is used to viewing this kind of event with our noses pressed against the window. It's logistics driven, of course- realistically we can't all be there-but nevertheless raises issues central to the inclusiveness we value in our community. The fact that the privilege of attending events like these, often accorded to the same people, time and time again, can be worrisome.
How to make sure that attendance doesn't contribute to the politics of exclusion? That's what I'm processing today. But I think acknowledgement of privilege is a start as well as a commitment to give back, to share In the way I know best. So that's what's on my mind today.”
If I look back to previous international conferences like this – in Toronto or Mexico City, for example – they are impactful not just for one being in a time and place which feels important, but for the sense of community they evoke. It’s inspiring and colorful and amazing – and it tends to change your view of your place in the world. I want to experience all that as much as the science and the politics, the protests and the passion.
Yes, I will, be working in South Africa. Reporting while away from home isn’t easy but expect to read reports on what I’m learning but also what it’s like to be in a far off land a long, long way from home, surrounded by HIV activists of all stripes. Will I get to see much of the country? I doubt it. But it would be a pity not to travel so far and not see an exotic beast or two, so who knows.
So “watch this space” - and don t forget other social media channels too. True, it won’t be quite the same as being there, but then it’s free of the 23-hous plane trip which is my idea of hell.