“HIV is our virus; go find one of your own!”

“HIV is our virus; go find one of your own!”

Well, the nice lady on the phone didn’t actually say that. But that message was heard loud and clear.

And she is one at the forefront of fighting HIV/AIDS in my native Sri Lanka. My organisation had gone with an offer of help, in our own small way, to augment their good fight. But for reasons best known to her, she chose to brush us off.

It happens in the context of the 8th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, or ICAAP8. The year’s most important regional event on HIV is scheduled to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 19 to 23 August 2007. Several hundred members of our region’s HIV community — from activists and researchers to development aid officials and persons living with HIV — are expected to turn up.

HIV virus

TVE Asia Pacific has been involved in communicating about HIV for a few years. One highlight was when, at the invitation of the International AIDS Society and the Thai Ministry of Public Health, we organised the 2004 AIDS Film Festival in Bangkok. That was part of the XV International AIDS Conference.

We also distribute across Asia some outstanding factual films on HIV/AIDS produced in different parts of the world. Among them is the highly acclaimed Scenarios from Africa.

With these and other credentials, we had hoped that we could share our experience in using audio-visual media for communicating the HIV message in all its nuances and complexity.

Earlier this year, we responded to a call for skills building activities appearing on the Conference website. We didn’t know anyone involved, but we submitted a proposal to the website, outlining our offer to conduct a ‘Skills Building Workshop on Strategic use of moving images for HIV/AIDS Advocacy’. We didn’t ask for any money – our offer was to do it entirely at our cost. We planned to involve some Asian communicators who are regional leaders in this area.

A few weeks later we had a phone and email exchange with a Sri Lankan member of the secretariat
about our proposal. We don’t know this lady at all, but relating to her was not a pleasant experience. In fact, she was very dismissive and almost rude. She found fault with us for submitting our proposal late, when in fact we’d done so well within deadline!

We felt rebuffed and put off by her attitude. Although she said she was going to get back to us, it never happened. Evidently, our offer had touched on somebody’s raw nerve.

We still don’t know what irked this lady — it’s possible that my outspoken public views on HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka may have been taken personally by a small mind. This is the problem with some people: they take evidence-based criticism personally.

Whatever was responsible, we won’t be at ICAAP8. Our friends who are part of the media team at the conference belatedly tried to involve us. But by then, our spirits were shattered.

A missed opportunity. And there’s some irony that while the Thai Ministry of Health invited us to run an entire film festival in their capital, the Sri Lankan Health Ministry (organisers of ICAAP8) would actually keep us out of this event!

Such are the politics of HIV, which I’m only just beginning to understand. And I thought we needed to unite against the common, invisible enemy…

Read my other blog posts on HIV:

HIV: Stigma a bigger killer than the virus?

Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission

Beware of Vatican condoms!

50? In South African terms, you’re probably dead!

Ratomate’s best cup of tea

A girl named Nan-nan