by Ramatamo wa Matamong – Alex Pioneer*
DURBAN, Dec 2 — (TerraViva) World Aids Day might not have been on the official agenda at the U.N. Climate Conference this week, but it was certainly on the minds of many who gathered to talk about finding a global solution to climate change.
At the civil society event at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, members of the Students’ HIV Unit distributed packs with HIV/AIDS information and free condoms to motorists at the entrance to the campus. The students encouraged people to get tested for HIV, blood sugar level and high blood pressure.
“(Even) If you are not infected, you are affected. That’s our message and we wish delegates can take five to ten minutes of their time to observe this significant day,” said student activist Nokuthula Zondi.
Can we link HIV/AIDS and Climate change?
“That’s a tough one,” Zondi responded. “I think everything that is in universe affects all of us. I see their impact as the same, especially when young people are dying despite the potential to bring scientific solutions to the problem.”
Closer to the International Convention Centre, where the official climate negotiations of COP 17 are taking place, members of TAC – the Treatment Action Campaign – from uMgungundlovu district gathered at a park. They said they were marching against charlatans who falsely claim to have a cure for HIV, misleading people in an attempt to make quick money.
“However, we believe COP 17 is a very important platform to raise critical issues of air pollution that will bring a long-lasting solution to health. People living with HIV need quality food and air,” said Richard Shandu, provincial TAC coordinator.
Climate change activists warn that the two issues are linked.
Sanna Salmela, a Finnish delegate of the Red Cross, says HIV/AIDS and climate change both target vulnerable groups. “If you are sick, you need a clean environment.”
Households living with HIV/AIDS often face loss of income or food security due to the ill health of a breadwinner, or when one family member must give up time to care for another; this can make it harder for a farming family to cope with climate changes such as drought or flooding, for example.
Salmela says the pandemic and global warming are two global challenges, which should be addressed with equal intensity. “Successful talks on climate change will result in generally improved health for the population.”
“Both HIV/AIDS and Climate Change compete for the same resources and have similar implications. The impact varies. Developing countries are more at risk than developed ones,” says Hopeton Peterson of Jamaica, Institute of sustainable development.
And some delegates seemed to agree. “It was so heart-warming when I heard one of our state delegates remarking on HIV; he was even wearing a ribbon in commemoration of this day,” said Aria St Louis, an environmental specialist from Grenada.
* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.