Since the start of the epidemic, nurses have compassionately stepped up to care for patients when the best we could do was perhaps just comfort and be with them. We stepped forward with our patients into an era of rapidly developing treatments, learning the new drug regimens and working with our patients to translate that complex new information into ways that work within the realities of their lives. Now, we step forward to educate, empower, prescribe and support a new generation in protecting themselves with PrEP. Nurses continue to step beyond traditional roles by organizing and advocating for human rights through accessible health care and a world free of stigma. This is the quiet daily experience of nurses around the world – getting the job done without a lot of fanfare, with the focus where it needs to be – on our patients.
On the night before the start of the International AIDS Conference, ANAC and our Australian colleagues hosted a welcome reception for nurses attending the conference. We joined with the Australian/New Zealand Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANZANAC), the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM), and the Australasian Sexual Health and HIV Nurses Association in planning for this for months, with the theme of Nurses Stepping Up, Stepping Forward, Stepping Beyond. It was the kick-off of a series of events and sessions at AIDS2014 intended to bring better attention to the critical and varied roles that nurses play in HIV healthcare, public health policy and advocacy throughout the world.
News of the Malaysian Airlines tragedy was still unfolding and its impact was unclear. We understood that the conference and therefore the welcome reception must proceed. While saddened by the loss of life and all the potential in each one of those lives, we chose to pick up and carry on, as nurses have so many times before.
ANAC Board President Sue Willard opened the session to welcome nurses to AIDS2014 and honored all those lost on the MH17 flight with a moment of silence. Liz Crock, Vice President of ANZANAC talked about the Melbourne Declaration and four critical steps that nurses must continue to take in the fight against HIV/AIDS:
1. Organize, take a stand and speak out – Nurses need to claim our places at the table in policy making, education, and global HIV strategy.
2. Promote an enabling environment, and be serious about empowerment and partnerships with affected communities.
3. Keep raising the bar in health care ethics – step forward, name and address discrimination.
4. Retain our sense of urgency about this epidemic in order to create change and ensure that no one is left behind.
Throughout the week, we were thrilled to be joined by six other ANAC members to staff the ANAC booth in the Exhibit Hall. Nurses from around the world, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Tanzania, Uganda among other places stopped by to learn about our work and share their experiences. We offered complimentary electronic memberships to conference attendees from developing countries and 115 nurses from 25 different countries became new ANAC members as a result!