By Rani Ravudi, Asia Pacific NGO Delegate
I am privileged to have been nominated by the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) to represent them on the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) as the Asia-Pacific delegate. I am also honoured to have Jeffery Acaba of Youth LEAD as my alternate, together attending our first ever PCB meeting. Coming from a small Pacific island nation, I never dreamed or would have thought that I would get the chance to be part of something so much bigger, and with such incredible and dedicated activists; a wonderful body that raises the unheard voices of community in the HIV response, including ensuring issues affecting key populations from around the globe are addressed by UNAIDS and co-sponsors, in the presence of member states.
On arrival, I found myself quite lost and struggling to understand what was going on. Of course the jetlag of commuting from Fiji to Geneva wasn’t helping either. After the first day listening and absorbing, I reassured myself by reminding myself that I was there on behalf of my friends from the Asia-Pacific region and I couldn’t let them down, particularly my friends from the Pacific. I believe I may actually be THE first person from the Pacific to sit at the table. I was amazed at how the existing NGO delegates were coming up with issues and the way they wanted to see and were addressing them at the PCB meeting.
After the second day, I was already saddened that John Rock was leaving the NGO Delegation to be replaced by me, as the main Asia-Pacific delegate. I felt that he had so much to give and impart. I’m still glad that he had agreed to help me pick up where he had left off. We had one day devoted to inducting new delegates, and this happens at each December PCB. One day strategizing for the PCB meeting for the NGO delegation. One day of meetings with member states and other stakeholders followed by two days of PCB meetings themselves, and finally the third day of the PCB, which is usually a more casual thematic segment. The day after the PCB proceedings, the NGO Delegation meets for a debrief and to plan the bulk of work ahead performed in between PCBs, including participation in many subgroups and working groups. It is indeed an intense eight-day journey. John Rock assisted me with an intervention that I had the honour of giving from the floor relating to a conference room paper that had been previously demanded by the NGO Delegation to track decision points relating to civil society. I must note that this conference room paper exposed a larger issue whereby UNAIDS has actually no system in place to track any decision points made at the PCB meetings, their implementation or follow-up. However, another decision point was not needed here as the UNAIDS Secretariat was very willing to work on and develop such a mechanism, in close collaboration with the NGO Delegation of course. I felt so good to be delivering my statement on behalf of civil society in Asia and the Pacific in front of world leaders, ambassadors, and civil society colleagues.
During the actual PCB meetings, I was struck by the powerful presentation and interventions of the NGO Delegation, including John Rock’s poignant delivery of the NGO report. Some brought tears to my eyes, but all made me realize the gravity of this situation and the weight on my shoulders to perform at my best. My NGO Delegation colleagues made me realize the suffering worldwide faced in the HIV response, particularly by my brothers and sisters from key populations, and those living with HIV. But they also reminded me of the many successes, particularly from the community side of things, and the great leaps of progress made. I had no doubt about my decision to accept APNSW’s nomination and felt that the NGO Delegation should continue to follow up and indeed double efforts to make things better for all.