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Youth RISE blog from AIDS 2012
Youth Force Pre-conference July 18-20, 2012 (Sariah Daouk, Lebanon)
From all around the world, 200 young delegates working in the field of HIV/AIDS gathered to learn, discuss and share youth-specific information and evidence-based skills. Over the course of 3 days, young people connected with one another, and were given useful tips on how to maximize their experience at the AIDS2012 conference in which 25 000 people are expected to attend. Thanks to “CODIGITAL”, the participants collaborated with other youth-organizations, networks and activists on a virtual Declaration4Change platform that consists of guidelines and priorities on how the youth can achieve an AIDS-free generation. The emphasis was on empowering the youth to have an effective presence and voice, emphasising young people's perspective at the AIDS2012.
The pre-conference was organized by YouthForce, a coalition of international youth organizations and co-chaired by Anita Krug (Executive Director, Youth RISE) and Mimi Melles (Manager of the International Youth Activist Network for the Advocates for Youth). Youth RISE carried out a number of workshops at the preconference including several on harm reduction (HR), introducing the audience to some of the basics principles of HR, what a comprehensive youth-friendly package of HR services entails, the barriers that youth face accessing HR services and how HR can work effectively as an HIV prevention approach among drug users. Other workshops highlighted the Human Rights-based responses to the HIV epidemic, Pharmaceutical insights, Indigenous people & access concerns, LGBTQI, Gender & Sexuality issues, Sex Work struggles, Media & Advocacy techniques, and the relevance of Peer-Education & Outreach work.
Youth RISE sessions at the pre-conference aimed to show to the participants how many young individuals face stigma, discrimination and alienation increasing many risk factors associated with HIV, showing why it's vital to end failed wars waged on drug use & sex work. Decriminalization can protect the youth from many human rights violations resulting from incarceration and prosecution. Another big theme that was being debated was that Barack Obama lifted the 22yr old legislation that banned the travel and immigration of people living with HIV, however it still prohibits sex workers and drug users with criminal records from entering the country. This makes one wonder how meaningful and holistic this AIDS conference can be without members from these communities that are central to the global response to HIV/AIDS.
Other highlights from the pre-conference include the screening of “Inside Story”, participants working on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, as well as seeing live dance & poetry performances. The preconference came to an end with 3 key terms: "Access, Partnership, & Equality". Young people are the innovators, the change-makers, and the leaders of tomorrow.
Conference opening day – Monday 23rd August (Hugh Stephens, Australia)
Youth RISE is well represented at this years conference with several of our International Working Group members attending. With the conference attracting over 25,000 people, there were many great opportunities for Youth RISE to promote evidence-based drug policy, including drug decriminalisation and advocacy around appropriate harm reduction programs such as NSP or OST for young people.
This is my second IAC, and it's certainly one of the most fun conferences I have had the privilege of attending. With so many attendees, the conference certainly caters for all, with sessions ranging from latest scientific research to discussions about international policy, to training in advocacy.
Youth RISE’s Yamina-Sara, Sariah and Robin gave a great presentation about engaging young people who use drugs in developing youth-friendly harm reduction programs. Yamina discussed her experiences with the TRIP! Project, which seeks to educate young people who use drugs through the electronic dance community in Canada. Yamina provided an inspiring case study for attendees about a program that is highly successful in educating young people who use drugs and implementing harm reduction programs.
Sariah then talked about SIBA, initially a program of Youth RISE and now a separate organisation that seeks to promote drug policy reform and harm reduction education in the Middle East. Finally, Robin spoke about Youth RISE and our activities in promoting evidence-based drug policy at an international level.
The opening day of the conference also saw the launch of the Harm reduction networking zone in the Global village which featured a mobile van from Insite, North America’s first and only supervised injection facility. In the Harm Reduction Networking Zone, the PHS Community Services Society, the non-profit organization that operates Insite, demonstrated how and why the site works. The mock safe injection facility offered attendees and the general public the opportunity to experience Insite and understand the principles that have made it a success.
Tuesday 24th August (Robin Pollard, United Kingdom)
The second day of the conference saw Youth RISE members present on a number of panel sessions. Lisa Salazar presented “Story Gleaners” a community-based storytelling research project that explores the tensions between Toronto harm reduction services and federal drug policies. The project brought together the voices of individuals whose health is most affected by Canada’s national anti-harm reduction policies and uses digital storytelling to share the stories of how current Canadian drug policy affects the lives of people who use drugs.
The second Youth RISE session of the day saw Anita present a new briefing paper on young women who use drugs, co-authored by Youth RISE and HIV Young Leaders Fund. The publication, “Ain't I a woman? Recognizing and protecting the rights of young women affected by HIV & drug use” highlighted the intersections between age, gender, and drug use, making the case for why young women who use drugs are particularly vulnerable to HIV and not adequately reached through mainstream health services.
Wednesday 25th August (Robin Pollard, United Kingdom)
Wednesay was Youth RISE's busiest day of the conference. The morning saw Robin and Hugh present on the panel session titled: ‘Young People Who Use Drugs, Harm Reduction and Political Participation’. Robin addressed the difficulties in engaging young people who use drugs in harm reduction advocacy and political participation, highlighting some of the unique barriers and forms of stigma faced by young drug users. Hugh then addressed the audience on how young people can use social media to improve their engagement in political participation.
Youth RISE's Kate had two poster presentations, the first on "Addressing the social determinants of drug abuse and related HIV vulnerability: a critical assessment of the White House 2011 national drug control strategy". This presentation looked at the disproportionate representation in the United States of socially marginalized populations amongst the groups experiencing the highest prevalence of drug-related HIV vulnerability signals a grave social injustice. This study suggests that the vulnerability experienced by these groups - namely visible minorities and groups with low socio-economic status - is a result of ineffective White House drug and social policy interventions that ignore the critical social determinants of substance abuse and its direct health-related harms.
Her second presentation looked at "Gender and drug use: addressing vulnerability to HIV transmission through the social determinants of substance use". The over-representation of socially marginalized populations amongst the groups experiencing the highest prevalence of drug-related HIV vulnerability signals a grave social injustice. This inequality is caused by social determinants of health, the effects of which are exacerbated for women whether they use drugs themselves or not. This study applies a gendered focus to the WHO social determinants of health approach to explore why women in low socio-economic communities are disproportionately vulnerable to the harms associated with intravenous substance use, specifically with regards to HIV transmission.
Youth RISE also participated in a meeting with UNAIDS discussing the futute of youth involvement and participation in UNAIDS programs and activities and looked at how young people can continue to influence UNAIDS stategies in the coming years. Harm Reduction International's Biennial publication, "The Global State of Harm Reduction" has for the first time included a chapter on young people who use drugs. Youth RISE was able to present this chapter which was co-authored by Youth RISE at the official launch of the publication
Thursday 25th August (Yamina-Sara Chekroun, Canada/US)
I came to Washington for AIDS 2012 hoping to learn from the many sessions as well as meet other's who have joined the global effort to end HIV/AIDS. While I was exposed to a diversity of panels and sessions from around the globe showcasing the hard work of individuals from all walks of life that have inspired me to continue to be an advocate, what touched me the most were the personal stories that I found throughout the conference. Stories of love, of life, and of birth, and of death. Stories of health and illness, and so many stories of survival. Some stories were accompanied by photographs or art; some were in movies screened in the Global Village. Others were not accompanied by any imagery. The words lay bare yet ever still so powerful.
As I stopped to read these stories and consider them each individually, I noticed a theme among them that I could not ignore. While many people living with HIV or AIDS continued to live productive lives, engaging in a number projects and working relentlessly in their communities, I was troubled by re occurring commonalities- discrimination, isolation, and stigma. As it was well put in the Thursday performance “Music and Musings from the Life of a 27 year Survivor”, many of the everyday social barriers that people living with HIV/AIDS face constitute “components for an extremely lonely existence”.
I could not help but wonder why it was that as we joined hands during this one week in Washington, making promises not only to ourselves, but to future generations, that loneliness from isolation due to social discrimination still pervaded the daily experiences of positive people. And for this reason I believe that we must continue in our efforts to develop not only more scientific advancements, but also engage the media in providing more educational messages concerning HIV/AIDS while highlighting the very real harms of stigma. It is up to each and every one of us to de-mystify and lessen the fears associated with HIV/AIDS.
By coupling scientific with social goals that promote equity, acceptance and compassion, we can foster a sense of community that has the potential to take us above and beyond. From the depth of my heart, I want to thank all of those who shared or contributed in the sharing of stories that have greatly changed my perspective.
Friday 26th August (Anita Krug, Australia)
After 8 days of non-stop session participation and attendance, rally’s, networking, learning and discussion, the closing day of AIDS2012 finally arrived. The final panel that Youth RISE took part in addressed the important issue of funding youth organisations. The panellists included representatives from MTV Staying Alive Foundation, Levi Strauss Foundation, Open Society Foundation and the HIV Young Leaders Fund.
Young panellists highlighted the challenges that donors experience in funding youth-led projects and organisations, and challenges young people experience in applying for funds. Some issues include: inexperience in project management, difficulty understanding application procedures, language issues, and newness of an organisation. For donors, funding youth led organisations is a risk, however the panellists representing donor organisations also recognised the stronger impact these organisations also have. Overall it was agreed that donors play a crucial role in building the capacity of youth led organisations, and should have a better understanding the challenges that youth organisations face. Importantly, the need for young people to be more involved in decision making around where funds should be allocated was also emphasised. The panel allowed for an honest and open discussion between donors and grantees, a conversation I hope continues beyond the walls of AIDS2012.
Closing sessions (Kate Wood, Canada)
The final day of AIDS 2012 took a global focus on the HIV epidemic, featuring a session with Youth RISE Executive Director Anita Krug on how to make global funding programs improve access for youth to prevention, treatment and care. Another great session heard actress Whoopi Goldberg speak about the relationship between HIV and Tuberculosis for young people, and advocate for the important need of increased funding and treatment in communities struggling against both epidemics.
Special presentations from the Conference Rapporteurs highlighted the idea that HIV/AIDS can be eliminated, but that we need to end stigma against people living with HIV, drug users, men who have sex with men, transgendered people and women throughout the world in order to achieve this goal. This is not only a question of human health, but of basic human rights! The role of young people in "Turning the Tide against HIV" was specifically highlighted during many of these sessions, thanks to the voices of Youth RISE members heard throughout the conference.
The closing session of the AIDS 2012 included a rousing speech by former US President Bill Clinton, who championed a health rather than criminal approach to drug policy and promoted needle exchange programs as a positive intervention in this effort. Amongst many others involved in the fight against HIV, Clinton also personally recognized the US-based Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelman`s efforts to change policy discussions about drug use away from the criminalization approach. Let's hope this political will transforms into real policy in the United States by the next AIDS Conference, which will be held in Melbourne, Australia in 2014.