War on Aids under one roof

15 July 2016 - 10:11 By KATHARINE CHILD

If you thought putting all your friends in one room at your birthday party could be interesting, imagine what the 21st International Aids Conference, starting in Durban on Monday, with 18000 people from 183 countries, will be like.The conference, being held for a second time in South Africa, brings together many passionate people including religious leaders, sex workers, heroin users, teenagers who like sex (so says one presentation), transgender activists, the celebrities of modern science, Nobel laureates, celebrity export Charlize Theron and many former heads of African states.STANDING TOGETHER: Thokozile, 54, was born in Pietermaritzburg, but fled to Inchanga in the late 1980s due to political violence. Her husband and sole breadwinner died some years later, leaving her alone to support six children and eight grandchildren. Thokozile formed the Asisodwa (We are not alone) Widows Support Group in 2012. 'We do not depend on men, we depend on God because he will never abandon us,' she says. Many of her friends in the group work at a sewing school set up by the Hillcrest Aids Centre TrustCeleb Queen Latifah is giving a free show at Durban's Kings Park Stadium on Wednesday, grannies will march through the streets tomorrow and health experts from Thailand are giving a talk about putting sexual pleasure back into youth sex education.So while over 2500 scientific abstracts will be presented full of words like T cells, inflammation, broadly neutralising antibodies and cytokines, no one is going to be bored.'NEVER GIVE UP: Lahliwe Khumalo, 65, was an orphan raised by her teenage brothers. She was married at 16 and fled her home due to the political violence of the 1980s and settled in Inchanga. In 2003 she was widowed and left with four children and four grandchildren. Hungry and desperate, Khumalo turned to her local ward councillor for help. She was given a job as a road sweeper, a job she still has to this day. She was crowned last year's 'gogo of the year' by the Hillcrest Aids Centre TrustScientists save releasing their research for these massive events, so everything there is to know about HIV will be presented.Expect to learn about whether we are any closer to a cure, gene-editing the virus out of DNA and why South African women are so likely to get HIV.When 500 conference sessions with some of the smartest people in the world get too much for simple journalists, they can attend a lunchtime exercise event titled "A Morning Rave" which, according to its description, "seeks to combine the key elements of wellness under the undeniably powerful structure of the rave" on the Global Village main stage.ENGINE ROOM: Nokuthula, 42, and Busisiwe, 52, are sisters and members of Khuthalani Support Group in KwaNyuswa. The lively, enterprising group set up a community bakery and pizzeria, sourcing the funding through private company Mama Mimi. The company provides the bread mix, materials and training, receiving a small share of the sales. Their wood-burning ovens produce 25 loaves a day which the support group sells from their little corner shop and at community eventsThe Global Village is in the Durban Exhibition Centre, and anyone can attend the all-day discussions and performances there free of charge.Some of the more memorable named shows and discussions held include Black Pussy: A Performance; HIV Blind Date; I am Alive and Parents Overprotect Young People.Participants can sneak off and watch a movie as well. In fact, they can watch documentaries all day every day for five days, with titles including How Gay Is Pakistan and Jonny Turn to God.PIONEER: Khonsiwe Meyiwa, 57, cares for seven of her own children and 13 grandchildren in Inchanga in KwaZulu-Natal. She has dedicated her life to helping children and parents in her community. Khonsiwe founded the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust's first gogo support group and set up her own adult education school. She has just qualified for her first full-time paid job as a child-support worker with Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust running a group focused on HIV prevention and life skills for 50 childrenThe conference hopes to tackle stigma through action, not just words, because marginalised communities are more likely to contract HIV. Heroin-users are welcome and can access free needle exchanges.They can also buy methadone - a drug used to treat heroin addiction by substituting the dangerous drug with a synthetic substitute.

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