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
- In developing countries, nearly 90% of people rely on natural (e.g., botanical,
nutritional) medicine either through self-treatment or treatment by traditional medical
- 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;
AIDS, Human Rights and Activism
- 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.
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
- 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
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
- 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 Role of Positive People in Prevention
- The need for UNAIDS to actively distribute the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and
Human Rights to government leaders and other key decision-makers.
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;
AIDS and Media Responsibility
- 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.
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
- 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.
Cultural and Artistic Responses to
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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