Thursday 26 June 2014

Under the Baobab Tree: African Diaspora Networking Zone #AIDS2014

Also known as 'The Tree of Life', the Baobab tree is found in 32 countries across Africa as well as in Australia and is an enduring symbol of positivity and growth, thriving in conditions where little can survive.

The African diaspora is even more widespread, as people of recent and remote African descent have settled in every region of the globe to create vibrant communities in the face of individual and collective challenges – including HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately affects Black and African diaspora populations.

This year’s African networking zone is being organised by the Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS) in collaboration with the African Black Diaspora Global Networkon HIV/AIDS (ABDGN) and AFAO’s African Reference Group.

To find out more about the zone, AFAO spoke to the ABDGN’s Kwaku Adomako.

Kwaku, tell us what‘s going to be happening Under the Baobab Tree in 2014?
This networking zone is going to be a hub of activity and knowledge-sharing focused on African and Black diaspora (ABD) populations locally and around the globe. The local energy and excitement of the Global Village will also result in spontaneous and unplanned experiences and connections that will inspire and recharge our commitment to ensuring the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on ABD populations is recognised as a global issue that requires immediate action.

Speakers from the Caribbean, USA, Canada, European Union, New Zealand, and Australia, will discuss a wide range of issues including treatment advocacy, community HIV testing initiatives, and youth prevention initiatives.

Panel presentations, cultural performances, digital stories created by women living with HIV, group discussions, places to rest ... it will be our home base for the conference.

You can stay in touch with our activities via our Facebook page and on @BaobabAIDS2014

What issues are you hoping to highlight through the zone?
For me the zone is about providing a space for our global community to highlight the issues that are relevant to their communities and their local context, and for us to collectively look at connections and synergies that can help build more coordinated regional and global responses.

My hope is that the recognition of ABD as a key vulnerable population is a common thread throughout the sessions and activities. This recognition is critical in supporting improved health surveillance, more enabling social and legal environments for ABD, greater protection of human rights, and reduced vulnerabilities across the determinants of health.

What are your goals for the zone?
The African Black Diaspora Global Network on HIV/AIDS (ABDGN) was born at AIDS 2006. It’s a beautiful example of the incredible impact this conference can have, through, as is the case with ABDGN, establishing a sustainable network that has a measurable impact on the global response to HIV among ABD populations. 

If ABDGN in partnership with AFAO and the MHSS can foster new collaborations, research ideas, funding opportunities, friendships, and support networks that span regions and mobilise our communities, then I think Under the Baobab Tree will have been a tremendous success.  

Does ABDGN have other activities planned around the conference that will be relevant for African diaspora populations?
ABDGN is leading the coordination of the ABD Regional Session - Stepping up from Vulnerability to Opportunity - on Tuesday July 22 from 11-12.30. This high-impact session is a key platform for us to bring the issues of ABD populations to the forefront of the global dialogues taking place at AIDS 2014. We are very excited to be coordinating this for a second time and we intend to ensure that this regional session, which began at AIDS 2012, becomes a permanent feature of the International AIDS Conferences. 

ABDGN has also coordinated the ABD roadmap for AIDS 2014. We reviewed the entire conference programme and selected all the sessions that would be relevant to our populations. This is a great resource to help new and seasoned conference participants navigate the conference program and follow the speakers and topics that speak to the unique vulnerabilities and strengths of our populations. 

We are also excited to share our plans for a Diaspora Declaration, a unifying call to action that brings together the most recent evidenced-based knowledge and resources to inform the development of a global ABD framework that provides recommendations for research, policy, advocacy and programming that is integrated, grassroots, adaptable and sustainable. Activities related to the Declaration will be highlighted at the Regional Session.

What does the conference theme ‘Stepping up the Pace’ mean for people of the African diaspora?
The theme for me means that we can no longer be complacent. While migration and population mobility are international issues, there is a local dimension too. In the context of HIV/AIDS our communities often remain under-serviced, under-resourced, and unheard. We are at a crossroads, where we can combine our individual efforts to galvanise a global movement that recognises that despite the disparities between us, we share (many) strengths.

The best way to effect change now is to step up our pace, and in solidarity show the global community that we are engaged, passionate and eager to make a real difference in changing the epidemic.

Kwaku Adomako is a first generation Canadian with both parents from Ghana, West Africa. He completed a MSc degree specializing in Gerontology at the University of Guelph, and was the previous Director of Positive Prevention at the British Columbia Persons with AIDS Society. In addition, Mr. Adomako was the Outreach Coordinator for the Toronto Host Secretariat for the 2006 International AIDS Conference.

Mr. Adomako has been the manager of the African and Black Diaspora Global Network on HIV and AIDS (ABDGN) since its inception in 2006 and coordinated its activities for the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City 2008, Vienna 2010, Washington 2012 and Melbourne 2014.

He currently also holds a position as the Senior Research Coordinator, Infection Prevention and Control at Public Health Ontario with a focus on provincial-based research studies on healthcare acquired infections (HAI) and antibiotic resistant organisms (ARO)s. 

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