By Ayana Jones, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –
(NNPA) - For local activist Waheedah Shabazz-El, delivering the closing speech at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria last monthh was an unforgettable experience.
Shabazz-El delivered a speech titled “Human Rights as a Conscious Achievement” to world leaders and over 25,000 delegates who gathered for the weeklong conference. During her speech, Shabazz-El called for women living with HIV to be involved in the policymaking process and ending the criminalization and violation of women living with HIV and AIDS.
“For all people we have to ensure that communities are able to access HIV education, prevention, testing and counseling services that meet their needs. We must eliminate all funding for abstinence-only programs that fail young people by violating their right to life-saving information,” Shabazz-El told conference attendees.
“All people with HIV have the right to work, have a full and satisfying sexual life, bear children and access high quality HIV care that meets their needs.”
Since the 2012 International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., Shabazz also took the opportunity to address challenges surrounding HIV in the U.S. such as housing for those living with HIV, the disproportionate impact of the virus on communities of color and women and stigma.
While the U.S. has finally lifted the 23-year travel ban on HIV-positive people entering the country, Shabazz-El noted that two of the most vulnerable populations, sex workers and drug users will not be allowed to legally enter the U.S. and participate in the upcoming conference.
She was honored to have the opportunity to speak during the conference.
Throughout her years as a HIV-positive activist, Shabazz-El has been steadfast in speaking up about HIV/AIDS related issues and educating others.
“It’s only through speaking out that the healing can start and the resources can come to your community,” says Shabazz-El, who was nominated to speak at the conference by the U.S. Positive Women’s Network. “I can’t be silent and just watch my communities get swallowed up by HIV. I’m just not a sideline player, where I can allow that to happen. Until we have a cure, what we have is education.”
Shabazz-El is also one of many community leaders who helped develop the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Shabazz-El joined other members of a national working group to develop input for the strategy. The strategy has three primary goals which include reducing the number of people who have been infected with HIV, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV and reducing HIV-related health disparities. The strategy was developed at a time when there are over one million Americans living with HIV.
“It’s something that we can start building on. We have a plan with some substance,” Shabazz-El said as she lauded the Obama administration for being willing to develop a strategy. “I’m just glad that we have an administration that sees that addressing HIV at home is a priority. I’m really pleased that we have an administration that heard us when we asked him (President Obama) to start working on this. ... Housing for people with HIV will be a cornerstone of this strategy because housing will be a way to increase (drug) adherence and access to care and housing will also be a way to reduce disparities.”
Shabazz-El, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 2003, is a community organizer and trainer with the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP). As an employee of Philadelphia FIGHT, she works as an HIV counselor and tester.
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