Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AIDS Blame Game

The Globe and Mail published a story about the findings of one US academic today: according to researcher Michael Worobey, it is possible to trace the initial cases of HIV in the United States to Haitian immigrants, rather than a US sex tourist returned from a vacation on the island. This article, and the research in general, is a punch in the face for those working to reduce the racial stereotyping that comes along with the pandemic.

During the initial stages of the pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, Haitians suffered stigma and stereotypes, even to the point of being blamed for ‘causing’ the disease’s appearance in America. Needless to say, attributing such a devastating illness to one ethnic group (or one sexuality) leads to racism, as well as a variety of other ‘isms’, and it’s taken significant efforts to mitigate the damage done by this Haiti-Aids association. In his book, Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, Paul Farmer tackles this issue and anthropological perspectives of health head on.

By publishing this study, the Globe and Mail risks bringing those out-of-date stereotypes back to life, and for what purpose? It seems to me that the US’s desire to firmly release themselves of blame (it wasn’t one of their citizens that brought the virus to America after all) is counter productive to attempts to ensure that every individual makes efforts to protect him or herself, regardless of their (or their sexual partner’s) origin. While this type of research may be important for disease epidemiology, it also works to “distance” those who feel they don’t fit into the victim profile—formerly, Haitian or homosexual, currently, African.

I’d rather see the opposite, a ‘proximity’: understanding the role that we all have in relation to HIV/AIDS- protecting ourselves, and helping to remove barriers to prevention and treatment for others.
Upcoming Development Events:
Saturday, Nov. 3: Hope in the Balance
Nov 4-17: UN Exhibit "Lessons from Rwanda" (UofT Multifaith Centre)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

World Press 2007

I'm never quite prepared for the intensity of the World Press Photo Exhibit. I'm always very excited to go, and then get stopped in my excitement tracks when I get there. I start having to breathe slower, prepare myself for what's around the corner. Zahra made the comment yesterday as we stepped from image to image, that what is hard to process is that there had to be someone there to take the photo. There had to be someone watching the man getting shot, the baby being burried, the gas main breaking, the boy waiting for interrogation by US troops in Iraq. It's hard to imagine being there.

Some of the ones that stuck with me include:

A ruined town in Kashmir, with rows and rows of men praying towards Mecca in the rubble of their mosque (Espen Rasmussen)

The juxtaposition of a group of African migrants arriving on the shores of the Canary Islands, and the bikini-clad toursits they enountered (Arturo Rodriguez)

Contestants in the Ms. Senior Sweetheart beauty pagent (Magnus Wennman)

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Best of the Press

Heading to the World Press Photo Exhibit tomorrow. I always look forward to this event as it passes through Toronto each year. It mixes global events with art in a way that's stunning, and equal parts heart-wrenching and humorous. I highly recommend checking it out in person, but if it isn't coming through your town/city, you can have a look at the gallery here.

In other development news, I attended the Branding AIDS Conference last week. Interested as I am innovative engagement, I was curious to hear academic and practical perspectives on what Bono terms "off the rack enlightenment". Keynote speaker Lisa Ann Richey provided an interesting critique of comodifying AIDS with a specific focus on (Product) RED and the Africa Issue of Vanity Fair that I talked about in a previous post. Her research is a work in progress but focuses on how "heroic shopping"...

- Could undermine hard won gains towards corporate social responsibility by focusing not on people, planet and profit, but just profit.

- Lacks the transparency and accountability of traditional aid agencies.

- Oversimplifies the issue of AIDS into slogans: "all it takes is two pills per day" (without recognizing how difficult it really is to live on ARVs in Africa).

- Doesn't recognize the (unequal) relationship between producers and consumers, but rather sees AIDS as an anomaly in a system that usually works fine.

I'm eager to see Richey's critique develop. For now, you can see her working paper here.

As the conference continued, I felt that it deteriorated into a more general debate about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, one totally beyond the scope of a half day conference. At one point I got up and (very nervously) asked about whether the panel saw the possibility for using "compassionate consumption" as an initial "hook" leading to mainstream awareness, and how they felt an individual's interest in wearing a (RED)tshirt or carrying a (RED)iPod could be translated into more engaged action. The only reply was that everyone should start reading Lenin...not something I felt had very practical application in the current response to the AIDS pandemic.

In general, though, it was a really interesting session. As usual, I'm excited to be a participant in development understanding as it happens.

Next up in the Fall Lineup of Development Events, Hope in the Balance, a day with Canada's development glitterati.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ideas Worth Spreading

Back from Africa and in the world of mega bandwidth, I've lately been indulging in the internet's video offerings, mostly on YouTube and TV Links. Now that I've exhausted the most recent season of Grey's Anatomy, I was lucky enough to stumble upon TEDTalks thanks to referrals from friends and fellow development bloggers. As far as I understand it, Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) is a series of conferences with the world's experts, during which the participants give 20 minute presentations on innovative research, initiatives and perspectives about the world around them. Recently, they've decided to post the TEDTalks online for public access, including the most recent set focused on Africa: The Next Chapter. I have only watched a couple so far, but am impressed by the diversity of their content, and the exciting new ideas they present. Certainly a 20 minutes better spent than with the melodramatic characters that fill the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital!