I Bleed, I Rise: Day 4 at AIDS 2016

July 20, 2016

Hello again! It’s day four of Durban week. Some folks may be starting to feel saturated with talk and facts. You may have missed lunch or a session you wanted to get to. Maybe, just maybe, you feel a little short-tempered with the conference hub-bub or the problems of the world, but a source of fresh energy coalesced on today with a galvanizing message: I bleed, I rise.

I bleed, part 1

That’s one of the signs that young activists held up during a powerful demonstration during the morning plenary session. The protest, directed at the South African government, involved singing, signs and a strong call for South Africa to provide condoms and sanitary napkins in all of its schools. That such an actionable demand is being made in 2016 is a reminder of both the work that remains, and the impact of simple things that can be solved quickly if people in power heed the voices of young activists.

I rise, part 1

AVAC’s own Micheal Ighodaro was among the plenary speakers on the stage when the action took place and the only speaker to express solidarity—rising with the protesters and holding a sign over his head. The reward for this action? An IAC employee raced over to ask him if he could hurry the protest along. Micheal, up on his feet with the other young people, did not comply.

I bleed, part 2

The people who talk about leaving no one behind ask people like me to be polite, to stay calm, to grieve quietly, while my brothers and sisters are dying or imprisoned. Our bodies are seen as an abomination or deserving of HIV—and you still want to know the source of my rage. I cannot decorate this pain for you, I cannot make a beautiful homage, and I cannot invoke hope and prayers. I cannot smile. I need to see action now, today…” Micheal Ighodaro, Plenary Speech, July 20, International AIDS Conference 2016

These words need no additional explanation. We have posted the complete text of Micheal’s speech here and we urge those who weren’t there in person to watch the webcast when it becomes available.

Later in the day, Micheal and Nigerian comrades held a unique session in the Global Village that combined dance and discussion to promote the right of African gay men, other men who have sex with men and transwomen to access PrEP. The session opened with a video memorial to the 49 people killed in the mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The Global Village truly lived up to its name as LGBT people and their allies from every corner of the world shared in a moment of mourning for this loss.

I rise, part 2

Micheal’s plenary drew a standing ovation. We were proud to be there.

Prevention advocacy was also on the rise in amazing sessions across the conference today including a session on women’s prevention, moderated by AVAC’s Manju Chatani-Gada. Courageous women raised their voices to share their experiences using the dapivirine vaginal ring in the ASPIRE study in South Africa, using PrEP as part of the SAPPH-IRe demo study in Zimbabwe and using PrEP outside research settings in South Africa. They also answered questions about accessing it through the private sector. Women-controlled prevention is too good and important not to share in detail.

“I miss my ring,” Thobile—one of the participants from the ASPIRE study—said emphatically when asked if she would be joining the open-label study (HOPE) that has just begun inviting back participants from the study. She went on to say she did not feel it when she was having sex, and said she felt good wearing it. Mrs. Shabalala talked about her husband’s support and his involvement in her decision to join and stay in the trial. He waved at us from the audience and invited questions.

Bathabile, a sex worker, who had been part of the SAPPH-Ire demo study, said many sex workers did not take up PrEP initially “because they did not really understand what it was all about. The informed consent form was confusing and I had to ask people to translate it for me. But then I got it.” She talked about the stigma sex workers experience, and her initial distrust of the intent of the study. But she wanted to try it, she said, and has benefited from ongoing support.

Another woman at the session, Buhle, said she “recently rediscovered her sexual freedom as a young, African women on PrEP”. She spoke about her experience educating her physician about PrEP. Her doctor had no idea what PrEP was, confusing it for PEP. Buhle went onto the CDC website in her doctor’s office and they walked through the site together. She said her physician warned her repeatedly that the side effects would be too awful to bear. Buhle took it anyway. Six months later, she says adherence is easy. Now Buhle wants to see the use of PrEP normalized so that her friends will accept it too, and get the same benefits she does. “Make it funky to use,” she said. That’s what would work for her friends.

We need to hear more of this and all the time. It’s the only way to move beyond the numbers and the PowerPoints and reach real people in the real world.

I rise, part 3

As an antidote to any creeping impatience during tomorrow’s conference, we offer this poem by the great African-American poet Maya Angelou.

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou

And still I rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Thursday at the Research Literacy Networking Zone

In addition to having a Help Desk (have a question about prevention research or looking for a resource—stop in!) and a comfortable space to rest your feet, come check out all the programming in the RLNZ (Global Village, Booth 606). See Thursday’s schedule below:

  • 11:00 – 12:30 – What is Health Research and Development and Why Should Advocates Advocate for Increased Funding for Health R&D (PATH)
  • 12:45 – 13:45 – How is that Rectal Revolution Coming? Update on Global Rectal Microbicide Research (IRMA)
  • 14:15 – 15:15 – Engage Yourself: Responsible and Responsive Science (AIGHD)
  • 15:30 – 16:30 – Ask the Researchers: Vaccine Research (HVTN)
  • 17:00 – 18:00 – The PROUD Study: A video documentary and discussion (Nicholas Feustel, georgetown media)

A Few Sessions We’ve Starred

See below for a highly selective list of sessions for all the data geeks out there!

  • 11:00 – 12:30 – Financing the Response to HIV: Show Us the Money, Session Room 1
  • 11:00 – 12:30 – Targeting Reservoirs for Cure, Session Room 7
  • 11:00 – 12:30 – Treat Early and Stay Suppressed, Session Room 12
  • 14:30 – 15:30 – Using Funding Data to Advocate for Global and Domestic Resources in the Critical Push Towards the End of AIDS, Global Village Room 2
  • 14:30 – 16:00 – The Use of Economic Interventions to Promote HIV Prevention and Treatment Objectives, Session Room 12
  • 14:30 – 16:00 – The Future of Chemoprophylaxis: New Concepts, Session Room 6

Follow along in real-time on Twitter, and look for the next update on our blog tomorrow!