For the first week of November, I was in Istanbul for a networking and ‘Skills Training to Empower Patients’ event organized by the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) Training Academy. I have been involved in EATGs´ Training Academy since late 2019 however due to Covid-19 all previous sessions have been held online. Over 30 participants gathered face-to-face for the first-time representing HIV activists and advocates from over 22 European and Central Asian countries.
As we all came from different parts of the world, our languages varied however our goal was united. To be the community voices in our countries to defeat the stigma, discrimination and criminalization of people living with AIDS and HIV. The topics we covered varied and included such things as: Intergrations of Services & Health Care, Harm Reduction, Stigma & Advocacy, European Sex Workers´ Rights, Country Level Best Practices, HIV Criminalization & Human Rights, Community Based, National & International Advocacy. All sessions were taught by specialist within their field of expertise, or through the experiences of people living with HIV like myself.
Throughout the event there were many insights and take away moments for me. Firstly, that although Covid-19 continues to impact our everyday lives, we as people living with HIV have never tired in the relentless fights and battles, we face regardless of country, governments or borders. Secondly, I was horrified to learn that over 75 countries still have laws that criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. Lastly, I took away that each of us can make a big difference: whether we believe it or not, one lone voice, one single action can have a ripple effect and impact the lives of millions. So never stop. Never give up. Be the voice of the voiceless.
At the conclusion of the event, we all went away with a clear strategy of what we each wanted to focus on for the next 12 months. Each of us left feeling empowered with knowledge that we will share with our communities and use our own voices and stories to make the changes we seek. We were reminded that June 2021 marked the 40th anniversary since HIV was first reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Although incredible advancements have been made over these years, there are still many issues and barriers that impact our HIV community and prevent us from ending the HIV epidemic. The event date was bittersweet as it also coincided with my own 10-year HIV anniversary. I was reminded of the personal battles and experiences I have gone through and will continue to go through as we battle forward to the next 10 years to achieving the ambitious UN goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.