Getting to Zero, Community Style

By Rob Banaszak on August 6, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference

by Sarah Denison-Johnston

I just went to a session that talked about the UN AIDS plan on how they will “Get to Zero.”  The goal is to have zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS related deaths. This session was community-themed, so people were encouraged to ask questions or comment on the topics brought up.

Nesha Haniff was a panelist who spoke about the role that women play or should play in the movement forward in AIDS activism. She was a very assertive speaker, and she made a lot of points that I agree with. She emphasized her opinion on the female condom, which I found very understandable.  She argued: why should they be advocating a female condom in place of a male condom to “give women control over their safety” when a female condom has to be negotiated over as well. She said it was basically an inside-out male condom except it was more uncomfortable and you have to contort yourself just to use it. She also explained that the groups of people that are still getting new infections the most rapidly are women from ages 15-24. Unfortunately, because of lack of funding, organizations have to prioritize certain groups in order of who gets resources first. Young women are not one of these priorities. Haniff blamed this on The Global Fund.

She has a good point. If we really want to get to zero new HIV infections, young women certainly need to be accounted for. The issue I had with a lot of this session, however, was the negativity. I’m sure that if these organizations had enough money and resources, they would make sure women are also a priority. In fact, if they had enough resources, they would make EVERYBODY a priority because everybody matters. But the fact of the matter is that they don’t have enough resources. If these women were prioritized that would mean that children on their own would lose some of their funding. This is a problem that is nearly insolvable if you approach in from this perspective. What needs to happen instead is an increase of funding so that everyone is included.

Another main topic that was brought up was the idea of slogan-ing. People complained that the term “Getting to Zero” no longer has meaning. Haniff also said that  people hear too many slogans and not enough content. Just because people can recite a pamphlet doesn’t mean they know what it means. The second part I agree with. People should be given phrases without knowledge or ability to understand what they mean, especially in illiterate communities. As Haniff said, people cannot afford to be lazy in education.

At the same time, making slogans can really benefit the cause. Maybe for people who have been enduring this disease for 30 years are tired and need something with more substance for their hope. Some participants in this session even said that it is impossible to “Get to Zero.”  But it is very different for a lot of the younger generation. Just on Sunday Sophie and I were walking by a march and we cheered for the participants. Some enthusiastic young men turned excitedly to us and said, “We can do this! We can actually get to zero!” So maybe for some it seems intangible, but for others it’s a beacon of hope. And for all those who don’t believe it is realistic, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. Maybe some goals are set too high, maybe there will always be a few infected, but nonetheless, if you shoot higher, you will get better results. It may not happen by 2015, it may not even be in my lifetime that we get to zero. Still, trying and knowing that we have the technology for this to be a reality will push us farther than doubting the meaning of the slogan.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that negativity will not get us far. Of course solidarity is a key way to help relieve mental pain and suffrage by knowing that you are not alone and that you are supported. On the other hand, insulting politicians for not doing enough, though it may get you a little farther, may not be the best way to deal with things. Working with politicians, explaining the necessity for resources and financial support in a way that wins them over instead of forcing them to give in will get you more money, more passion, and more results.

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