For decades, stigma, apathy, and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS have blocked many people from getting the care that they need. But there are also many advocates who put their lives and safety at risk to dismantle harmful attitudes and inequities. Honoring the theme of this year's World Aids Day, “End inequalities. End AIDS,” reporter Joanne Silberner reached out to 3 brave activists. They shared their personal stories about what made them speak up, and how their voices helped bring about dramatic change for their communities and in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
Kawango Agot recalls losing many loved ones to HIV/AIDS growing up in rural Kenya, where there were no effective treatment or prevention services. After earning her PhD and MPH, she had a choice to go back to the US. But she felt she could have the greatest impact staying in Kisumu, Kenya, where she works to expand access to HIV services.
When Bill Hall, a member of the Tlingit tribe of Southeastern Alaska, was growing up in Alaska, nobody spoke about sex or gays, and Native American clinics weren’t offering testing or education services. He became an advocate when he saw that the stigma and apathy wouldn’t end unless people like him spoke up, and has helped transform his community in Washington as a result.
For 11 years, Anton Basenko was an injection drug user living on the streets who became HIV and Hep C positive. A harm reduction program set him on a new path, and now he is an advocate for replacing hatred, anger, and discrimination toward people who use drugs and people dealing with HIV with easy, low-threshold access to harm reduction tools.