In November I travelled from Waterloo to the UK, then to Mbabane in Swaziland. From there I went to Durban for two nights. On Friday 13th November I flew to Geneva in Switzerland for four nights. I then headed back to the UK, before finally getting back to Waterloo at the end of November. During this trip, and while I was in Waterloo, I managed to complete the draft of the Very Short Introduction to HIV and AIDS. We actually got it to the publishers ahead of the dead line, just.
The juxtaposition of Swaziland and Switzerland reminded me when I was a boy, growing up in Swaziland, we frequently got mail that came via Switzerland. In the 1970s no one knew where Swaziland was, and there was probably someone employed in the Swiss post office to redirect the letters and parcels. I don’t think it ever happened the other way round.
Today the little Southern African kingdom has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. I was in Swaziland for two reasons. The first as an Evidence for HIV Prevention in Southern Africa (EHPSA) Fellow working with the National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS. EHPSA is a programme designed to support an effective and efficient HIV prevention response in southern and eastern Africa. The programme focuses on filling research gaps as well as evidence-based policymaking. EHPSA is funded by UK aid and SIDA and managed by Mott MacDonald. The idea of the Fellowships is to place academics within the national governments for short periods of time to build local capacity and at the same time do interesting work. I was delighted to be awarded the EHPSA Fellowship for Swaziland. It allows me a formal link with the wonderful team. Also relevant is there will be an AIDS conference in Swaziland ahead of the biannual AIDS Conference in Durban in July 2016. I was a small part of planning for this. It is going to be interesting. I have the call for papers and links on my website.
The second reason for the visit was to attend the strategic planning session for Waterford School, a two day event followed by a Governing Council meeting which took the whole of Saturday morning. Of course the headline for me, at least for the GC meeting, is that all is running smoothly and the school is in a reasonable financial position. The planning session was about the next 10 years. This involved all the ‘stakeholders’, including students, parents and teachers. It was a useful exercise and everyone left feeling happy (I think). We have decided that the environment and carbon neutrality should be among our top priorities going forward.
Of course a constant frustration is that the internet connection is unbelievably slow, both in the town and at the school. Over the December holiday a new mast is going to be placed on the Waterford property. The deal is that, in exchange for allowing this to be put there, we get better internet. We shall see. I stayed at the Mountain Inn and apart from the view down the valley I took a photograph of the bikes of the Vespa rally at the hotel. I am also posting photographs of some amazing reuse of tires as chairs.
I had a couple of days in Durban. It was just long enough to get in a dinner, game of squash, some banking and a dental appointment – the last the least pleasant as it involved root canal treatment, which then became an ongoing process. Oh dear how I wish I had taken better care of my teeth over the last 40 years. Of course we, as children, were not part of the fluoride generation which was huge disadvantage. I have discovered vast numbers of dentists in Waterloo but many are very specialised.
From Durban I went to Geneva where part of the answer to the AIDS crisis may lie, since this is where both UNAIDS and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria (GF) are headquartered. I was there as a guest to attend the GF Board Meeting. The GF is one of the major partners in the response to the three diseases, and without their support millions of people would be sick or dead.
The Board Meeting was held in a plush conference venue at the Starling Hotel. The delegates, as many women as men, from all over the world did not quite fill the space, but there was, at times, a sense of urgency and enthusiasm. The pre-meetings on the Sunday comprised a mixture of information exchanges and constituency gatherings. Because I was there with an AIDSpan ‘hat’, most constituency meetings were closed to us. The briefings though, were models of efficiency. Crisp presentations on, for example, the funding model, followed by short questions from the audience and thoughtful answers from the panels.
There were a number of initial impressions. Perhaps the overarching one is that the GF is a technical response to the diseases. My perspective, having just been in Swaziland and South Africa was that this won’t be enough. Thanks to the ‘El Nino’, Southern Africa is facing the worst drought in decades. Driving through the Highveld it was deeply concerning to see how little grass there was for this time of year. There were dust devils dancing across the ploughed fields, carrying away the precious top soil. Hunger and poverty are set to deepen. In the short time I was in the region the Rand lost seven percent of its value against major global currencies. Economic growth may well stagnate and drive poverty.
The board meeting was something of a circus. Is this the best way to govern the response to these killer diseases? This I cannot answer as this is the first meeting I have attended. My experience tells me that process may be product! In my view, though, it was far too restrained. Swaziland ignites passion, Switzerland does not! The question is how to be efficient and effective while caring deeply.
There is a lot going on in the professional sense. My friends at the Rush Foundation have just produced a most interesting brief: “Investing in HIV in Uganda could yield a return-on-investment of 186% over 35 years”. This is posted on my website, but theirs is always worth a look. I am the Editor in Chief of the African Journal of AIDS Research and we plan to produce a special issue of the journal ahead of the 2016 AIDS conference. The call is here.
I am aware that this monthly posting has been less about my ramblings and observations and more about things I want to share. This has to include our student recruitment for the Masters in Public Policy Programme (please pass this round) and the PDF which I am also posting to my website this month. Please pardon this, next month we will return to the numerous things that have amused me over the last month. A taster would be the climate walk in Waterloo. Rowan went on a climate march in London. Here, in this part of Ontario, we stuck to the pavements (sidewalks), stopped red lights and the numbers of dogs was greater than people, many of whom (people not dogs) had walkers!