Where Are All the Young Black People at IAC?


The
International AIDS Conference has gathered 25,000 plus delegates from
all over the world here in Mexico City.  Well, almost from all
over. While there are a lot of Latin American youth (granted, the conference
is in Mexico), African and African-American youth are almost nowhere
to be found. This lack of representation was extremely surprising to
me considering that sub-Saharan Africa is widely recognized as
the most HIV affected and infected region in the world.  Furthermore,
in the United States, the HIV prevalence rate is highest among African
Americans, relative to other groups.

So
what is the reason for this lack of attendance by African and African
American youth?

From
what I can discern, there may be a couple of contributing factors. 
After scouring through different websites, I could only come across
a handful of embassies in different African countries, which may have
made it difficult for people to apply for visas. This could  imply
that only those really determined youth could attend since they may
have had to leave home to travel to the nearest country with a Mexican
embassy to obtain a visa, thus incurring additional costs for small
African organizations that are already financially constrained. 

Another
obstacle that young Africans could be the fact that Mexico City directly
borders the US.  Mexico City is a common stop for many, including
young African, refugees trying to enter the US illegally. But even if
some were lucky enough to be able to access a Mexican embassy, they
may have been turned away more quickly than others due to the perception
that they might try to use attendance at the conference as a way to
enter the US. 

So
African presence here is seriously lacking — right down to the African
regional networking zone in the global village. There are more white
people here speaking on behalf of young Africans than Africans themselves. 
This isn’t to say that there aren’t great non-African organizations
doing amazing work in Africa — but if anything, the reasons behind the
low representation of African youth highlights yet again the fact that
AIDS is not an issue that can be solved in isolation. All social, political,
and developmental factors need to be taken into consideration in halting
its spread.  Whether we’re trying to fight the epidemic through
prevention, treatment, or international advocacy at global conferences,
it is necessary that all of these factors be taken into account.

Also
absent from the conference are African Americans. Considering the lack
of attention politicians and organizations have toward the HIV/AIDS
epidemic among African Americans in the United States, their absence
at this global conference can only be called tragic.

During
his speech, former President Clinton said "if African-Americans in
the US were their own country, their prevalence rate would rank 7th
internationally." So my questions are plentiful: Why is the US government
spending more on international AIDS funding on countries with lower
HIV prevalence rates than that of the African -American population
in the US? Are African Americans not a part of the epidemic? This is
a group that is being systematically neglected by the US government
in all respects, especially when it comes to HIV. Yet, I only remember
seeing one African-American AIDS organization in the global village. 
While I fully support US funding directed at stopping HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan
Africa, clearly more resources also need to be channeled to support
HIV and AIDS programs for the African American community domestically.

A
lot of people spent a lot of time, energy and most importantly, money,
to organize and prepare for this conference, and those are the ones
who are most evident and prominent when I walk around the global village.
The conference is teaching me a great deal about the epidemic in other
parts of the world. Nevertheless, whether it is minority groups like
young Africans and African-Americans, who are continuously under-funded
and sometimes neglected altogether by their governments, or people from
other regions who face developmental and political obstacles — I must
remember that it is the voices that I’m not hearing that I should
be paying the most attention to.

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