by Yoshiyuki John Oshima, UN Plus Global Coordinator
In November 2017, I returned to my home town, Tokyo, where winter had just begun. I arrived in Japan to accompany my boss who was invited to give a plenary speech at the conference of the Japanese Society for AIDS Research. However, I had another mission. The conference organizer also asked me to speak in one of the sessions called “Positive Talk.” It was the session in which, for the first time in the conference history, people living with HIV in Japan were invited to speak about their experiences. I am used to speaking about myself in English in front of non-Japanese audience, but it was the first time for me to speak in my own native language in front of hundreds of compatriots. This made me extremely nervous.The “Positive Talk” was scheduled on the last day of the conference. When I arrived at the session venue, I found out that the organizer had selected five speakers for the session, including myself, among dozens of candidates. I was the fifth and last to speak. As I was listening to the first speaker, I started to hear some people in the audience sobbing. They were crying because the first speaker was telling such a sad story. He was talking about the time when his partner —also HIV-positive— had been diagnosed with cancer. Many healthcare providers rejected his partner to be admitted to their hospitals or clinics because of his HIV status. He finally found one hospital that accommodated his partner. But shortly after that, his partner passed away.
The second and third speakers’ stories were also those of their plights that made the audience cry. The second speaker talked about his experience of being rejected by his local healthcare provider in the southern part of Japan for his treatment. As a result, he was obliged to travel all the way to Tokyo (2 hours by plane) to seek treatment. The third person talked about his struggle to cope with strong side effects of his antiretroviral medications while also having had to take care of his mother with dementia.
By the time my turn came, I was already overwhelmed by the stories of my fellow speakers. I was not aware of so many difficulties people living with HIV in my own country were facing. In fact, these difficulties are encountered by people living with HIV everywhere in the world, including those of us working in the UN. In my talk, I decided to emphasize on the importance of sharing our stories and realizing that our individual circumstances are not isolated. By speaking out and sharing our stories, we know that we are not alone, and we create a “bond” between us beyond borders. In so doing, we become empowered and build resiliency to move forward.
The reason why I started this newsletter is precisely about empowerment and resiliency. I hope the newsletter gives hope to people living with HIV around the globe as much as I did so to my fellow speakers at the “Positive Talk.”