More than 12,000 delegates and observers from 180 countries gathered in Durban, South Africa this July to break the stigma, indifference and ignorance surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic.South Africa currently has the highest concentration of HIV cases in the world, with an estimated 4.2 million HIV-positive people. Six thousand people in Africa die of AIDS every day, while the rate of infection increases by 1,600 daily.
This year, I provided acupuncture treatment every afternoon in the conference's exhibitors hall. I arranged chairs "detox style" and provided a "treatment on demand" clinic in the center of the NGO (non-goverment organization) community. My little "four-chair clinic" was never empty, and people waited in line for a chance to try acupuncture. I found that several of the conference participants were very interested in the possibility of acupuncture treatment to help manage HIV infection. Many languages were spoken, but frequently it was the universal language of gentleness and reassuring touch that mattered most, as countless people were able to have their first experience of the marvelous effects of acupuncture.
Over the course of five days, more than 250 conference participants received acupuncture treatment. It was a beautiful sight to see treatment taking place in the middle of a conference hosting 12,000 people. It was a source of calm in the midst of incredible activity, with life and death issues and political passions running high.
I also participated in a self-care training program for women from the townships, villages and outlying areas who were not able to afford the conference fee. The ICW (International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS) hosted this satellite conference, which focused on skills building, health classes, HIV education and community empowerment. I taught a class on gua sha, therapeutic touch and qi gong excercises. I also provided an afternoon of acupuncture for the women. Over 60 women received treatment.
I have attended two other International AIDS Conferences, but this one felt different to me. It was the first conference to be held in the southern hemisphere, where there has been a severe lack of world concern regarding the devastating impact the AIDS epidemic has had on this continent. I finally feel that we are beginning to see new hope. We now have strong evidence that prevention works and that there is an increase in political commitment and resources to fight the epidemic. I also felt that I was among old friends, and that our efforts are finally starting to make a difference, both nationally and globally.
Still, there is much left to do. It is my hope that in taking deliberate steps to break the silence, we can stay strong in our commitment to turn back the tides and find solutions that can bring an end to the suffering and disease we know as AIDS.