Sanctuary and celebration

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25 Jul 2018


Day two of AIDS 2018 and I negotiate the RAI Convention Centre with a tad more aplomb. I enter a huge hall packed with delegates prodding devices and scrambling for photo opportunities as the indefatigable Charlize Theron takes to the stage representing the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, South Africa.

My attention does not waver as I hear further speakers discuss issues ranging from the vulnerability of missing and indigenous populations to innovations around substance use in Kazakhstan. The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, introduces Sir Elton John to launch the MenStar Coalition — a billion-dollar initiative aimed at targeting and preventing HIV infections in men.

With my dose of celebrity and royalty sated, I venture through the massive hanger of a building that is the Exhibition and Poster space. A fiesta of polished high-tech installations (many resembling the cockpit of Jupiter II) greets this disoriented delegate from down under! The wonders of scientific research and partnerships make these global pharmaceutical giants the goliaths of clinical hope —and at times targets of opprobrium. Affordable HIV treatments are not universally available and Big Pharma often comes under scrutiny for alleged price-gouging and bullying behaviour. 

I feel privileged and lucky to live in a country that subsidises my life-saving antiretroviral drugs. And whilst a 20-year-old man who has connection to clinical care and structural support can now live with HIV till at least 78, there are still men all around the world afraid of getting an HIV test or attending to general STI or health screening. We cannot support and treat those who do not know their HIV status.

And so, the mantra of testing, treating and using condoms will play like a broken record until every human on the planet at risk can safely access services and tools and be proactive with their sexual health. And as I ruminate on these, at times, overwhelming themes, I dart in to the HIV-Positive Lounge for a soda, neck rub and a chance to put my feet up … but only for a minute!

Tobin Saunders