The third Africa World Aids Day (AWAD) turned thunderous as attendees stood up to join key note speaker Dr Bra Vada Garrett Akinsanya in calling for a Bill of Rights for Wellness for all people. Since all of us are “children of a living God” it is our right to do whatever it takes to achieve physical and spiritual wellness as a fundamental right protected by a bill of rights.
Dr Akinsanya urged the crowd to demand from the powers that be to enjoy a life of respect, cultural wellness, live a life of hope and prosperity where basic human needs of food, housing, healthcare are readily available to all. She said the black race has a prophetic mission to live a full life and attain their full potential in which they can share power, enjoy financial wellness free from debt and live a life of cultural wellness in which our languages, culture and spirit are honored.
The atmosphere turned electric as Dr Akinsanya read a poem dedicated to all those with HIV/AIDS and everybody in attendance urging all to ARISE to their prophetic mission to live a life of abundance as they were the hope for positive change in life styles in their communities.
This year’s Minnesota Africa World AIDS Day (AWAD) was held at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building on 179 Robie Street East, St. Paul. The occasion was graced by traditional African drum beats, prayers and solemn words of wisdom from elders (religious and community leaders), music, drama, poetry, dance and cultural exhibitions.
Powerful messages to contain the spread of AIDS were given through poems, drama, dance, and exhibitions of various agencies engaged in the fight against AIDS and bringing to public attention the kind of resources available to the public. Dr Bosola Akinsete, a physician in Minnesota who handles HIV cases spoke about challenges facing African immigrants in the war on AIDS as including stigma, fear of the unknown, lack of insurance cover, shame associated with AIDS, immigration bottlenecks and language barriers.
Exhibitors of cultural material with an African touch colored the occasion while the aroma of exotic African food brought mouth-watering impulses among the crowds that showed up. Pharmaceutical companies were there with brochures of their merchandise and drugs that help elongate lives of HIV/AIDS patients, and healthcare providers were all over the place to educate the public on what kind of resources are available to the people.
Key exhibitors included:
· Pan African Community Organization (PACO)
· American Red Cross
· Open Arms Minnesota
· Minnesota Department of Health (Refugee Health Program)
· Minnesota Care
· African & American Friendship Association for Cooperation and Development, abbreviated (AAFACD Inc)
· Sub-Sahara African Youth and Family Services (SAYFSM)
· ACO – Emergency and Community Health Organization
· Population Connection
· Blue House (Plight of Ugandan orphans)
· ZYOMBI International
The audience was treated to a candid testimony on the experiences of Ms Siona Nchotu and Joyce Nalwoga as they battle with the pandemic giving useful tips how to stop the spread of this disease. They spoke about the need to break the silence, fight stigma and going for free testing so that we all know our status as the way forward to stop the spread of this malady getting out of control.
“Don’t be deceived by good looks and a big buddy like mine,” urged Joyce while wriggling her assets that sent the crowd roaring with excitement, “outside appearances do not tell you who has AIDS or who has not. Go get tested and protect yourself and others”; she advised the audience.
The vocal Siona Nchota was surprised why people “put horns on HIV/AIDS when it was a disease like any other,” she advised women going out to night clubs to wear their “rainy boots as if it is a rainy day”. She was talking about the need for women to be strict on using condoms to avoid going into unprotected sex.
She said men and women should attend Red Cross educational classes on AIDS so that we can become heroes in stopping the spread of AIDS. She warned, “light has come, let us not go back into darkness.”
On the World AIDS Day that was celebrated on December 1, 2006 the organizers of the global event declared that from now till 2010, the slogan should be “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.”
Since the first cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, infection with HIV has grown to pandemic proportions resulting in an estimated 65 million infections and 25 million deaths. HIV continues to disproportionately affect certain geographic regions such as sub-Sahara Africa so it is incumbent among healthcare providers to develop intensive programs for such areas so that all people requiring treatment are reached and help prevent transmission of new infections.
Figures obtained from the 2005 UNAIDS/WHO report suggest that 25.8 million people with AIDS (64%) live in sub-Sahara Africa. The region reported 3.2 million new infections in 2005 alone. In Minnesota, the African born population accounts for only 1 percent of the total population, but the Department of Health in Minnesota estimates that African-born persons accounted for 16 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases in 2005.
African countries that have contributed to this huge figure in their immigrant population in Minnesota include Ethiopia (26%), Liberia (14%), Kenya (13%), Cameroon (9%), Somalia (8%), Sudan (5%), others, countries not named (25%).
This year’s AWAD event was poorly attended compared to the previous two years, possibly due to an awkward location for hosting this event relative to areas of high concentration of African immigrants.
About Swallehe Msuya
Swallehe Msuya was a senior staff writer at Mshale with extensive media experience in his native Tanzania. He was a general assignments writer. Investigative stories that Mshale undertook were normally his responsibility. Swallehe passed away in Sept. 2009 at the age of 61. Mshale will forever miss his tenacity and wisdom.
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