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Being Alive

Building an International PWA Coalition


Being Alive 1993 Nov 5: 19

In late September, more than 200 people met in Acapulco, Mexico, for the VIth International Conference of People Living with HIV/AIDS. The Conference was organized by GNP+, the Global Network of People with HIV/AIDS. Delegates came from every continent and we all found that, despite tremendous differences in culture, economic status, gender and sexuality, there were common goals and a basis for joint action and solidarity. It was a difficult meeting. Serious errors of the outgoing board of directors and staff which have impeded the creation of a unified international voice for PWAs were acknowledged and criticized and a new board was elected (with three representatives from each region North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia/Pacific, plus one from the Caribbean).

Behind the criticism of individuals, however, lay the grim facts: AIDS, oppression and neglect are the real enemies, and our comrades are too precious to toss aside. All of us left the conference with a commitment to communicate and to support each other much more actively.

Being Alive first became aware of GNP+ and the Acapulco conference at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in 1992, where Being Alive led the formation of an ad-hoc caucus of PWA/HIVs. Our goal there was to re-assert the centrality of people with HIV disease. We reminded physicians, bureaucrats and researchers that much as we need and value their help AIDS is an episode in a complete life and not an excuse to make us the objects of clinical or sociological study. To share this understanding with men and women from Africa, Asia and Latin America was the most important event in the Amsterdam conference and we looked forward to continuing the dialog in Acapulco.

Organizational problems resulted in the conference being postponed until late 1993. Publicity was poor. Almost no one in North America even knew of the conference. Worse, no one from Acapulco or most parts of Mexico, ever heard of it. About 40 people came from a few Mexican cities; approximately 60 people came from all of Latin America combined. Fifty were from Europe, 25 from Africa, 25 from North America,15 from Asia and the Pacific. Roughly a third of the delegates were women; the rest were predominantly gay men, although a number of individuals mainly from Europe identified themselves as having been infected through IV drug use. Nearly everyone at the conference was active in what we in the US would call a PWA coalition, most commonly known as "self-help organizations." Though the struggle to address previous leadership errors left precious little time to plan the substantive, forward-looking agenda for GNP+, there was general unity around this draft statement of Guiding Principles: "GNP+ exists to promote the self-empowerment of people throughout the world living with HIV/AIDS. To achieve this, GNP+ will through the advocacy of issues at grassroots and global levels protect and promote the interests of all those living with HIV infection and its consequences... GNP+ will ensure that the views and concerns of those most directly affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic are voiced at the international level... AIDS policies developed in the absence of such involvement [are] inherently invalid and far less likely to be effective." Although few concrete proposals were formally adopted by the delegates as a whole, there are five priority areas of future work: Communication and outreach, including electronic networking GNP+ will attempt to provide electronic communications tools (computer, fax and print) for each regional representative as needed. Funds and donations of computers will be sought.

Identities, self-definition and diversities of needs GNP+ will attempt to provide data for the development of appropriate programs of activities to meet the needs of specific cultures of PWA/HIVs (e.g., women, children, drug users and ex-users, gay men and lesbians, youth, sex workers, migrants). The issue of active drug use was sharply raised. Drug users particularly criticized the prevailing prejudice that "recovery" and abstinence is the only ethically acceptable stance for them.

Health and social policies for health care GNP+ will continue to assert the centrality of PWA self-help groups in national plans to combat AIDS, in particular, as successful, cost-effective strategies for developing nations. Women delegates strongly urged that GNP+ should monitor the plans of the WHO to encourage community health strategies, as these programs often throw responsibility for community health on women without considering their own health needs.

Human rights and increasing international discrimination GNP+ is now an official sponsor of the International AIDS Conferences. Along with the WHO, GNP+ has stated it will withdraw sponsorship in any country that bars entry to visitors who are HIV+. For the 1994 conference in Yokohama, Japan, the WHO and GNP+ have said that all travel issues must be resolved by the Japanese government by December 1993, or they will withdraw sponsorship and call for an international boycott.

Continuing US travel and immigration restrictions were also sharply criticized, concretely around plans for the international Gay Games and Stonewall 25th Anniversary celebrations planned for New York in June 1994. Delegates urged all HIV+ individuals to write to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Stonewall 25 committee demanding a strong stand against restrictions imposed by the US government, which mean that many gay individuals might be barred from attending these events.

In the broader area of human rights, GNP+ will attempt to communicate abuses as quickly as possible, and to build capacity for response through international campaigns of letter-writing and exposure of violations of human rights of HIV+ individuals.

Skills building and technical assistance GNP+ will actively promote and encourage the development of PWA/HIV self-help groups, and will seek resources to nurture these new formations. In an address to the Acapulco conference, Michael Merson, Director of the UN Global Program on AIDS, told delegates that he would seek to work more closely with GNP+ in the promotion of self-help strategies. GNP+ voted to help by holding its next conference in 1994 in a newly democratic South Africa ruled by its Black majority.

The greatest challenge for GNP+ is the difference between the conditions facing PWAs and their organizations in developed and developing countries. It is difficult for Europeans and North Americans to imagine the almost insurmountable barriers in nations where neither government nor non-governmental organizations can command the funds necessary to build PWA self-help. The newly elected leadership will actively seek the financial resources and technical support to make international communication the basis of development for GNP+.

We need a unified international voice for all people living with HIV/AIDS. The year 2000 will see nearly 100 million people infected with HIV. If you wish to communicate with GNP+, you may write to them c/o Being Alive. We will forward anything you wish to send. We hope you will write to encourage their development into an effective democratic organization.


Information in this article was accurate in November 5, 1993. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.