On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2015, I could not help but ponder on what the day means to me and so many others like me who are living with HIV. This was on my mind as I helped my organization, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, prepare for Positive Power: All-India PLHIV Leadership Summit. We organised the event in partnership with the National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India (NCPI+) on November 29th and 30th in New Delhi.
The two-day event saw participation by more than 225 leaders living with HIV along with Members of Parliament, policymakers, government bureaucrats, media representatives, UN organisations, donors, and civil society to dialogue on the future of HIV/AIDS in India. The summit enabled constructive discussions between PLHIV leaders and a range of stakeholders to describe achievements and strategize on the way forward. It was a dynamic platform that allowed us as PLHIV leaders of this movement to express our challenges such as service access and stigma & discrimination.
The event confirmed the significance of World AIDS Day to me. One of the media personalities present at the summit commented that we should not focus on this issue only one day and forget about it the very next day. I definitely agree, but as a PLHIV leader, I fully appreciate the importance of this day. This day gives a platform for my community to talk about the epidemic, and I can use this day to ensure that others listen to our voices. At the Positive Power summit, we did just that and so much more!
One of the biggest issues focussed on during this event was the HIV budget being cut by 30%. No doubt after more than eleven years of free ART, India’s HIV response model has been one of the best. The job is, however, not yet done. Cuts in the health budget will create serious gaps in the services that are being provided. There is so much more that has to be done in order to ensure an AIDS-free India. It is crucial that each and every PLHIV and all persons who are vulnerable to the epidemic should be able to access the services we need.
With these cuts, it becomes uncertain that commitments by the government to provide certain services will be fulfilled, including urgently needed access to viral load testing and third-line antiretroviral (ART) drugs. PLHIV need high quality treatment, care and support, along with social services such as education and employment opportunities, all without discrimination or stigma. This summit was encouraging when we saw representatives from a range of India’s political parties, including BJP, AAP and Congress, listen in solidarity to powerful testimonies from PLHIV leaders and affirm their commitments for an India without AIDS.
Our country without AIDS and without stigma is a vision that is only possible when we remain united against HIV, not against people living with HIV. We must build on the lessons of today to make priorities for tomorrow. We must always support PLHIV and other vulnerable communities to ensure access to the services we need, protect our rights, and end new infections. Together we can get to zero!
The author of this post, Mona Balani, is a committed activist and serves as a Programme Officer: Care & Support at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.