The thrill of having the opportunity to participate in the XIX International AIDS Conference began some months ago. The International AIDS Society accepted an abstract I authored with colleagues for a poster exhibition. This excitement became more real when I learned that I was one of three winners of an MSH internal abstract contest, and would be given the chance to travel to Washington D.C. to attend the conference and present our poster, “Leadership and Management Training increasing male involvement in PMTCT.”
I could barely sleep on Sunday night. I was nervously thinking about presenting the poster at the conference the next day. (I would have been a lot more nervous had it not been for the practice session held by MSH that helped to prepare us for presenting our posters in a clear and concise manner!)
Coming from a small city like Georgetown, Guyana, I could not conceive the magnitude of the conference or the sheer size of the convention center structure. From the opening day I was blown away by the number of delegates, presenters, exhibitors and speakers from literally all over the world — all involved in some way in the fight against HIV & AIDS — filling the Walter. E. Washington convention center.
I felt privileged to be part of Management Sciences for Health and be surrounded by warm, welcoming supportive colleagues from our global, hardworking family.
The theme of the AIDS 2012 conference, “Turning the Tide,” flowed throughout the week, from the opening plenary to the closing session. I had goose bumps listening to the passion and conviction with which panelists spoke about their personal experiences and struggles they fought and overcame in the pursuit of reducing the incidence and impact of HIV on lives and livelihoods. These plenary sessions were rich in content, and highlighted studies and interventions, and generated new perspectives that could enhance our existing programs at home to create stronger impact. For example, two plenary sessions on preventing HIV among commercial sex workers highlighted a key group that we’ve missed during our intervention: the regular clients of sex workers. The speakers underscored how initiating behavior change interventions with regular partners could make it easier for commercial sex workers to negotiate condom use in their regular relationships.
Being part of the MSH booth was an excellent way to get a picture of the diversity of people attending the conference. Interacting with those who stopped by revealed delegates from an array of organizations and groups: clinical, behavioral, social, academic, faith-based, and community-based, among many others. It was heartening to find that many people knew of our organization and took an interest in one or more of our several programs. Also, visiting the booths of other organizations was useful for knowledge exchange on programs and resources.
This week will resonate with me for a long time, and I will use the journey home to reflect on the wealth of information shared. I am grateful to MSH for affording me this opportunity, and I return home re-energized and invigorated to continue our work as we contribute towards the shared vision of an AIDS- free generation, and someday soon, the end of AIDS.
Shameza David is program officer for the second phase of the MSH-led Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Program (GHARP II), funded by USAID.