12th World AIDS Conference
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...bridging the gap

LAST UPDATE: Thursday, 2 July, 1998 17:33 GMT   S U M M A R Y     S E S S I O N S    ...all the news, as it happens
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Summary of Wednesday, 1 July, 1998

Traditional & Alternative Healing Practices

The focus was on action in terms of how to improve the collaboration between traditional medicines and conventional ("Western") medicines. Speakers’ topics covered a range of issues: the role of traditional African healers, traditional Chinese medicine, spirituality and philosophy of life and healing, research into scientifically active components of "natural" medicines (particularly herbal combinations).
  • In developing countries, nearly 90% of people rely on natural (e.g., botanical, nutritional) medicine either through self-treatment or treatment by traditional medical practitioners;
  • Natural medicines have been found to be effective in the treatment of some of the opportunistic infections associated with HIV;
  • In developed countries, often 50% or more of HIV-infected individuals use some form of "alternative or complementary medicine" such as medicinal herbs, nutritional therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, dance or movement therapy;
  • A number of pilot projects and ongoing health programmes have shown that traditional medical practitioners can collaborate with biomedical personnel to help prevent the spread of HIV and STD (by promoting partner reduction, safer sex, condoms, sterilisation of razor blades, etc.) and that the use of alternative medicines may relieve suffering associated with either the disease or the symptoms of antiretroviral treatment;
  • The symposium noted that traditional, alternative and complementary medicine receives only a small fraction (1%) of global health funds with less than half of this figure targeted to HIV/AIDS;
  • The symposium resolved that venues and tracks be set aside at regional and international AIDS conferences for the exchange of ideas and experiences related to traditional and alternative therapies, and that regional and global networks be supported.

AIDS, Human Rights and Activism
The aims of this symposium were to:

  • Promote a stronger linkage between AIDS activists and Human Rights activists in order to put AIDS issues on the Human Rights agenda and vice versa;
  • To bring AIDS activists/representatives to share experience and knowledge with Human Rights activists/representatives;
  • To explore a common approach to improve the effectiveness of work on HIV/AIDS related to Human Rights issues, and to promote the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights.

The debate that took place in this symposium included:

  • A discussion of the scope and extent of human rights violations in the field of HIV/AIDS which had been more successfully addressed at the community-based level than at the global level;
  • The need to focus on social, economic and cultural barriers in overcoming stigmatisation and violence directed to persons living with HIV/AIDS (PWA);
  • A consensus that AIDS and Human Rights activists need to make better use of existing legal frameworks in their reporting and resolving human rights violations and omissions;
  • The need for UNAIDS to actively distribute the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights to government leaders and other key decision-makers.

The Role of Positive People in Prevention
This session set out to explore, across a number of cultures and a variety of settings, how the contribution of HIV-affected people, through speakers’ groups, testimonials or consultation work, may enhance prevention programmes.

The different presentations underlined the following evidence:

  • That people living with HIV/AIDS (PWA) need to be actively involved in the concept and design of prevention campaigns to ensure that PWA are not excluded from the partnership necessary for effective prevention;
  • That the inclusion of PWA in prevention outreach is a vital tool to fight the trauma of stigmatisation and increase self-esteem, since it confers on PWA an empowering role of educators, particularly towards groups that are increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection such as youth;
  • That governments and public health agencies must make use of the different ways of including PWA in prevention strategies, and appropriately remunerate PWA for their expertise in this type of work.

AIDS and Media Responsibility
This symposium involved a panel of media representatives, both from the North and the South, a scientist who has been extensively interviewed by the media, and a media celebrity actively involved in the field of HIV/AIDS, Miss America 1998.

This highly interactive and compelling symposium addressed the panel with questions on how to influence media, on the roles and responsibilities of media in reporting on HIV/AIDS-related matters. The panel also discussed the sometimes conflictual relationship between journalists who produce news topics on HIV/AIDS and their editors or corporate managers.

  • Government control and censorship of media, in different cultures and political settings, was mentioned as an obstacle to effective and honest reporting on HIV/AIDS.
  • HIV/AIDS communities need to develop tools to engage media in a productive relationship, but data and studies developed within HIV/AIDS communities can also help media report responsibly on the HIV/AIDS field. It was suggested that developing appropriate media-targeted needs assessments might be one of the means to help establish a partnership between the media and HIV/AIDS communities.
  • In certain countries or social settings, ancient and traditional cultural values have proven to be obstacles to the struggle against HIV/AIDS. The panel agreed that media can play an invaluable role in negotiating changes in these attitudes, according to local cultural and ethical standards.
  • Finally, representatives of the media stressed that media reporting and HIV/AIDS education are two separate things that do not necessarily overlap. In the same way as a bookstore cannot be held responsible for the variety of opinions and positions held in the range of titles it offers, the responsibility of educating the public towards the same variety of opinions offered by the media does not lie with the media themselves.

Cultural and Artistic Responses to HIV/AIDS
Although this symposium was meant to be an interactive roundtable and the expected debate didn't really take place, the session was eventful and highly interesting.

Artists participating in the Geneva 98 Cultural Programme presented a short excerpt from their performances as intermissions between the speakers.

At the end of the symposium, the local gay group Dialogai once again made the headlines by having 20 Marilyn Monroes holding condoms run to the speakers. They sang messages of prevention on famous tunes by the American sex symbol.

Two salient features emerging from the speakers’ presentations were:

  • That artistic messages are, by definition, engaged in a constant process of re-definition and re-evaluation of social values and phenomena. As such, artistic and cultural works relating to HIV/AIDS are both instruments of tradition and change, bearing witness to the different and evolving ways in which HIV/AIDS affect societies and individuals.
  • That artistic and cultural responses to HIV/AIDS, as reflections on the tragedies of the pandemic or dreams on a world free from the inequalities related to HIV/AIDS, are invaluable tools of education and prevention, particularly when they merge these messages with traditional vehicles of cultural and artistic expression.

The symposium resolved that future Conferences give higher priority to interactive cultural activities in terms of both budget and programme, and that these be integrated into all aspects of the programme.

Please also see the Report from the Cultural Programme to date


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