(CNS): It was one of those defining moments in history of legendary AIDS activism at the International AIDS Conferences when the TB cough-in/coffin March began at the penultimate day of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Vienna, Austria. At least half a thousand people had assembled, with t-shirts, placards, cardboard coffins (no more TB deaths), stop TB handkerchiefs/ bandanas, vuvuzelas, drums, banners, and mascots to name a few. AIDS activism has been a cornerstone of AIDS conferences, but TB was on the IAC agenda this time, as never before.
Hundreds of marchers were coughing into the handkerchiefs/ bandanas intermittently and then the growing sloganeering at deafening decibels of 'When you cough, when you sneeze, cover your mouth to stop TB' was raising awareness of the need for better TB infection control. “Anyone with known infectious TB or who has an undiagnosed cough is kindly asked to refrain from joining the march, for infection control reasons” read the March flier.
“No more people living with HIV (PLHIV) dying of TB”, “HIV Positive, Prevent TB”, “To make TB a disease of the past, we need to turn declarations into deeds and promises into programmes that transforms lives”, “We cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB”, “Know the fact, a vaccine for TB is possible”, “No more HIV, no more TB, help set us free”, “If a virus (HIV) and a bacteria (TB) can work so well together, then why can't we?”, “On the move against TB”, “MOSOTOS = Death” (MOSOTOS is a campaign promoted by TB Alert, and stands for “More Of Same Old Talk, Opinions and Speeches - MOSOTOS), “When you invest in HIV and TB, Africa wins”, “Know your facts: One in four AIDS deaths are due to TB”, “We demand access to HIV-TB services everywhere”, “ART clinics not transmitting TB”, “No more empty commitments”, “Stop TB”, among others (photographs).
The two black coffins had poignant messages: “Saved from HIV, but died from tuberculosis”, “Stop TB”, “If a virus (HIV) and a bacteria (TB) can work so well together, then why can't we? – Michel Sidibe”, “No more PLHIV dying of TB”, “TB = one in four AIDS deaths”, “Stop PLHIV dying of TB”, “Saved from HIV but died of TB” among others (photographs).
The March began from the 'Global Village' and went around the 'village' at IAC and the procession swelled enormously with people from different booths and exhibitions joining in.
The high decibel chant of “When you cough, when you sneeze, cover your mouth and stop TB” echoed in the conference corridors. There were other slogans, like “Stop TB”, “No more – TB deaths” among others that undoubtedly left an indelible imprint on over 20,000 delegates at XVIII IAC as the March traversed its way out of 'Global village' and through the corridors to session rooms. It went inside the session room II where a session on “No more people living with HIV dying from TB” was about to begin (1-2pm) with Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM/ Global Fund) as the Chair and former President of Portugal Dr Jorge Sampaio who is also the UN Secretary General Special Envoy to stop TB, Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and Timur Abdullaev from Ukraine were the keynote speakers.
This March had surely provided a very powerful thrust to this session – and with two coffins and scores of placards kept all around the session hall – the message was clear: time to be complacent about TB among PLHIV is over – and affected communities demand action – to bring in the desired change in terms of optimal TB and HIV programme performances on the ground. (CNS)
Bobby Ramakant – CNS
(The author serves as CNS Policy Adviser, and is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's WNTD Awardee (2008). He writes extensively on health and development for Citizen News Service (CNS). Website: www.citizen-news.org, email: [email protected] )
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