One in a series about Black Americans engaged in leadership roles for the 2012 International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012).
Deloris Dockery runs the highly successful One Conversation project, a public-education AIDS-prevention and community-action campaign of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation in Newark, N.J. She is also a member of the governance committee for AIDS 2012. Here, the activist -- who has been HIV positive for 16 years -- speaks about what she believes needs to happen to stamp out the HIV/AIDS pandemic; what she's looking forward to at this year's conference in July in Washington, D.C.; and why it's important for Black Americans to attend.
What do you believe needs to happen to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
We need to identify every single person who is infected by HIV, and we need to get them care. And "care" does not necessarily mean putting them on medication -- it does mean getting them into (health and social services) care and tracking their disease progression. This is important because if we can suppress viral loads to undetectable levels, we can reduce transmission.
We also need to involve more of the people who are infected in the whole decision-making process regarding what is done to stamp out HIV/AIDS. This can't just be about people creating legislation and making other moves on behalf of people living with HIV. It has to be done in partnership with those who are affected.
What do you most look forward to at AIDS 2012?
Hearing the voices of women living with HIV in the United States -- really kind of highlighting their presence. Oftentimes we're not heard and we're not seen. For me that's really important. That's one of the things that I have been fighting for.
I also want to hear about the scientific progress being made and the kinds of initiatives that are under way to combat the epidemic, as well as the implementation strategies that are being thought up to really get to a zero infected rate.
Why is AIDS 2012 so important?
I have attended the International AIDS conference since 2000, when it was in Durban, South Africa. It was there that I first realized the great change that could come out of these conferences. At that particular conference, we mobilized, recognizing that if we treated HIV in Tokara, Africa, and other places with large emerging epidemics, we could reduce transmission. That was a turning point for the global initiative.
I think we are at a point in history where we need that kind of mobilization again. We can really eradicate HIV. This conference is necessary to mobilize people in the United States and globally. It can serve as a turning point in this fight.
Why do Black Americans need to attend and get involved in the movement?
Oh my God -- we must be there. This epidemic is disproportionately impacting Black Americans, but we are unaware of it, uninterested and almost just complacent about it. It really disturbs me. I work in an urban center. I have been doing a lot of work in my area, reaching out to traditionally Black organizations. But I still don't think we, as a larger community, truly understand that this disease is devastating to our community.
I think we, more than anybody else, should be a part of this discussion. We should be involved in what's happening at the conference. We should care about the decision points that are made. We, more than anybody else, should be in the mix, should be vocal and should be visible.
Candace Y.A. Montague is the D.C. HIV/AIDS examiner for Examiner.com. She also writes for The Body, emPower Magazine and Capital Community News.