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Message from Denise Gray-Felder

Like many writers, I like to daydream while seemingly doing more "grown-up" work.  While others are intently watching the evening news or reading the newspaper, I am masquerading as a news viewer or reader.  While I may appear to be listening intently, the real me is thinking "virtually"; my hands and eyes are in the present but my head and heart are thousands of miles away at a far more romantic or exotic spot.

I'm struck by how this is emblematic of the fight against AIDS.  Far too many people in important positions only pretend to be listening, masquerading as engaged and committed AIDS warriors.  They write and say the right words, they embrace people infected with HIV (yet they do slip up at times, pitying the poor "victims"), and some even write substantial checks, or lead governments that write substantial checks. 

You can tell a masquerader by the time it takes for his or her eyes to glaze over as you're relating yet another statistic about AIDS orphans or a monogamous friend infected by her husband-in-transit.  Most pretenders can hold their "interested look" for about only 90 seconds.

In the United States, where I live, masqueraders like to believe that AIDS does not, and will not, touch their lives.  It is a disease that "others" contract; others who are poorer or darker or somehow more deviant.  Certainly their sons, daughters, wives or girlfriends would never be so careless (translation: not smart) as to expose themselves to HIV.  (Not all pretenders work in Washington, or are elected officials.)  Some are easy to spot: They teach their teenagers that condoms are necessary only for certain kinds of people.

I find that I can only be in the presence of such actors for about 90 seconds before my anger starts to boil, not glaze, over.
That's why " despite the politics and pretense that accompanies the AIDS conferences " going to Toronto earlier this month for the XVI International AIDS Conference was yet again uplifting.  There, the majority of the 24,000 registrants are real, not virtual.  There, real dreams " the kind that occur at night and in the daytime " are about new treatments, possible vaccines and prevention without abstinence.  And care with dignity.

In Toronto, reality is stories of women who have sex night after night with partners who are infected with HIV not because they want to " or because they are stupid " but because to refuse to do so could bring them at risk of physical abuse.  The AIDS Conference reality is that entire rooms are set aside for conferees to rest, nap or be checked by doctors; despite being very sick they never considered not traveling to Toronto.

And the world reality for all of us " regardless of where we live and who we sleep with each night - - is that we have no choice but to fight AIDS with every means at our disposal. 

In this issue of Mazi, Ailish Byrne writes about two of the CFSC Consortium's AIDS communication projects.  While I'm proud of what we at the Consortium are doing, I know it is not enough and I know that we can do more to find innovative and effective ways to influence cultural norms and values that make HIV transmission commonplace.  I'm plagued by cultures of silence where men and women pass on HIV unwittingly because they cannot comfortably get tested for HIV.  I feel the fire in my belly scorching me with the taunt: Help Them Tell. Help Them Tell.  I believe we can and must embrace the current generation of adolescents, wherever they live, imploring them to understand that communication is a potent warrior " along with medicine and research " in this must-win war.

I believe that every adult can, and must, know his or her HIV status, and that HIV testing is not only routine but normal.  I'm at times consumed by the notion that knowing one's HIV status really can become as commonplace as an annual physical checkup or knowing one's blood type.

 Much of the Consortium's work looks at communities and how the individuals within communities communicate for a common purpose.  Yet the Toronto AIDS conference made vivid for me, once again, the power of one voice, one advocate, one gadfly for change.  Be they activist, scientist or philanthropist, we must stop and listen to those voices for change.

UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot has been saying recently that the next phase in the fight against AIDS must be waged on the social change front, as well as in treatment and research arenas.  Prevention cannot happen absent effective communication.  As many (including Lebo Ramafoko who writes elsewhere in this issue) said in Toronto, we need a social revolution against AIDS.  If that's the case, we communicators have to lead the battalion.

Consortium Senior Adviser Heidi Larson was in Toronto as well.  She writes more about the social change implications of the AIDS battle in this issue.

Other subjects profiled in this issue include a retrospective look at "what happened to Latin American media?" and an insider's primer on microfinancing by guest contributor Stan Parish.

I hope you will take time to review the piece on the CFSC Anthology. After months of editing and production, the Consortium's first major academic book, Communication for Social Change Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings is now on the shelves and shipped within 48 hours of placing an order. 

Featuring reviews by Alan Alda and Graa Machel, this groundbreaking book is especially well-suited for communication, development, international affairs and global business specialists for classroom or training purposes.

Producing such a work " which includes some 150 authors " was a major and expensive undertaking.  We will distribute copies of the book free of charge to developing country universities that are unable to pay.  So every book you buy directly from the Consortium helps underwrite a portion of the cost of making this charitable contribution.  It is easy to do:  just click here.

Thank you for your loyalty and support.

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