Monday, December 01, 2014

World AIDS Day, Swahili style.

So for World AIDS Day 2014, I'm in Moshi, a town in Kilimanjaro region in northern Tanzania. It was great to be here for this day, in a place where large numbers of people have been working for decades to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, to prevent HIV, to care for those living with the disease and to increase access to drug treatment. It is sadly a place where many thousands of people have died due to AIDS, which is part of the sadness and commemorative aspect of World AIDS Day, but also a place where people celebrate life and their continued efforts to address HIV and AIDS.

HIV prevalence in Tanzania is now 'only' around 5%, a level that would be considered a national crisis in any European country but here means the epidemic is now much less of a national concern than a few years or a decade ago. It still means that on average one in every 20 people you meet here or see on the street is HIV positive; it still means thousands of people who need drug treatment now, and many thousands more who will need it in future. So HIV remains a major problem here, and a part of everyone's daily life, despite its move down the global priority list of late. In addition, the HIV prevalence in Kilimanjaro region has apparently doubled in recent years from 1.9% to 3.8%, while HIV prevalence nationally has gone down, providing particular cause for concern to citizens in this area.

Every year there is an event for World AIDS Day here, so today I joined about two hundred people marching through the streets of Moshi, with placards and handwritten signs, caps and tshirts, red ribbons proudly displayed. Many signs were calling for Zero – zero discrimination, zero new infections, zero AIDS deaths. Walking with an HIV organisation, we carried a placard reading in Swahili 'Zero: Kilimanjaro bila maambukizi mapya INAWEZEKANA!' roughly meaning 'Zero: Kilimanjaro without new infections IT CAN BE DONE!'. We marched through the town, then gathered by the bus stand to listen to speakers from the reigional and district offices, and from many non-governmental organisations who have been active on this issue for since the 1980s and 1990s. There was theatre, singing, drumming and dancing; there were lots of children and quite a few people aged sixty and above; there were lots of women and plenty of men. Everyone in other words who is affected by HIV and AIDS here. I would have liked a moment's silence or reflection during the day's events to remember the millions of lives lost to AIDS. But together we showed that those people are not forgotten and that we are not giving up the struggle against this preventable and treatable (but still incurable) disease. One year closer to zero.

Addendum: In an effort to get signal I am posting this standing outside in my garden beside some banana trees, so photos will have to follow at a later date, bandwidth permitting.


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