communities protest at Aids meet

By Henry Neondo

The African Regional Networks representing communities and organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa yesterday protested to the President of 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, ICASA 2005 and Society of AIDS in Africa (SAA), Prof Femi Soyinka, for having denied the community groups and People living with HIV/AIDS leaders, the opportunity to meaningfully participate at the ICASA 2005.

The network took exception to limited provision of scholarships and space on the program of the opening and closing ceremonies to people living with HIV/Aids.

“This is totally unacceptable and denial of the rights of communities specifically those living with HIV/AIDS. If communities are denied full participation, then, ICASA 2005 was never held. We live with the epidemic, provide care for the sick and bear the pain of loss of loved ones.” Said a statement signed by leaders of the network from across Africa.

The network urged that the time for the scientists to join hands with communities in order to forge a real partnership was now that war against the scourge is on the positive side.

During the planning period, communities have persistently requested for maximum inclusion based on past experiences.

Communities even made available to the ICASA secretariat past documented evidence on the importance of involving the communities.

The communities said that these experiences were meant to inform the steering committee on how best to engage communities as core-partners in ICASA.

Even though communities were listed on the steering committee, the Network representatives said members were not supported to attend planning steering committee meetings with the simple reason that money was not available but there was provision for SAA members to attend and participate.

The president of ICASA 2005 continues to publicly declare his support for community involvement in the planning, organization, participation and attendance to the ICASA programs.

Apparently, community involvement has been used as a bait to raise funds, said the network representatives.

The Network said that during the last ICASA, held in Nairobi, over 200 PLHAs received full scholarships to participate at the conference.

“The end result was that the conference was very successful, with PLHA visibility being achieved,” said network leaders.

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