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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July 2004, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
'Women must take a lead against HIV'
Ludfine Anyango
Ludfine Anyango contracted HIV from her husband
Ludfine Anyango is an HIV positive activist, who runs ActionAid's Aids programmes in Kenya.

She believes that big International conferences like the one currently drawing to a close in Bangkok have an important role to play in the fight against the epidemic.

But she is also convinced that we must constantly reassess their worth, particularly in relation to women's rights.

I was 26 when I was diagnosed with HIV. My husband had just died. He had known his status for a long time and had been too frightened to tell me.

I firmly believe that women must become the leaders in the fight back against this pandemic
I was left devastated and confused. That is the reaction of many women when they discover they have contracted the virus through marriage.

I confided in a good friend, and it was the best thing I did.

She helped me access self-help groups, gave me the confidence to tell my family, and gradually to become increasingly open about my status.

Now, eight years later, I am leading a team of committed staff working to amplify the voices of poor and socially excluded people, particularly women and children.

That's one of the reasons I have brought activists representing Aids affected communities with me to Bangkok.

An Aids conference is not just a talking shop, but there are times when I wonder if they need to be held every two years. They are important.

But they are also expensive and I sometimes find myself thinking that the money would be better spent on keeping people with Aids healthy.

Key role

Women in particular need to be kept alive. Not only for the benefit of their children but because I firmly believe that we must become the leaders in the fight back against this pandemic.

There is such unequal access to essential medicines
However, I am pleased to see so many positive women attending the Bangkok conference.

We need to be at the top of the agenda, ahead of politicians, ahead of celebrities, and ahead of scientists.

And there are some really good points. I helped run two workshops on the lessons that Africa can teach Asia, and on empowering women, joining with sisters from Africa and Asia to discuss common problems and find common solutions.

I also met with the World Health Organisation as part of a campaign effort to ensure that anti-retroviral therapy is distributed fairly under their "three by five" plan: the initiative seeking to give treatment to three million people in the world's poorest countries by 2005.

That meeting has resulted in an invitation to WHO headquarters in Geneva to meet with their technical experts, and give advice on how to ensure more equal access to the drugs that we need.

At the moment, there is such unequal access to essential medicines.

This disease is challenging us to overcome the divisions between rich and poor, urban and rural, and men and women.

The overwhelming feeling amongst the women in Bangkok is that we cannot allow the virus to win.

If we can unblock the resources and ensure political action we will prevail.

I will return home to my new husband, tired but energised. Iżll greet my two daughters - one from my first marriage, the second my stepchild - with love and affection.

And that is another lesson from Bangkok. We can have children, and with the right drugs and care be certain that they will be free of Aids. We can raise families like everyone else.

As positive women we have a right to lead full and happy lives. Even in our darkest moments we must always believe in a shared and better future.

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