63rd Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference


Pre-Conference Concert the night before

I attended a concert to welcome the NGO delegates to the Conference in Melbourne. It was spectacular to say the least. The concert began with a ‘Laser man’ who bent light and created a sense of awe in the audience. I can’t begin to explain how he possibly manipulated the laser as he did. Traditional dancers representing various countries including Greece, Australia, Britain, Japan, China, India, the USA, Africa, etc followed up the ‘Laser man’. The concert was an exciting way to receive the delegates and set the tone for a global conference. I’ll post a video of the laser man just as soon as I figure out how to do that.


The Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony inspired passion toward achieving the MDGs. By inviting keynote speakers from the Australian Parlament, UNAIDS, an Aboriginal health advisor, and Equality Now to name a few.

Michel Sidibe the Executive Director of UNAIDS was my favorite. He spoke of social justice as being an integral part of attending to any global health need. In fact, he mentioned that the social movement to eradicate HIV/AIDS was the first of its kind. Further, that this momentum need be continued for other diseases. Also, he stated what I think many of us struggle with as novices entering the field. That there should be integration of NGOs working together for similar causes. Finally, he also noted that the MDGs are not independent of one another. If we as global health interested individuals need to address them as a unit.


My first workshop entitled “Nyumbani Village: Responding to Children and Families Living with HIV/AIDS” was a great way to start off the Conference. This is an amazing organization and one in which people should check out.

This is the brief description: Nyumbani (meaning home) was started in 1992 by a Catholic priest and nuns in Nairobi, Kenya to help orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. They have 3 projects: a home for orphaned children, a village of orphaned children and their affected families, as well as a community support program that helps provide basic needs for families in the home with children who are HIV+.

Their successes include 100% of the kids are in school and 100% are on ARVs. They have an impressive sustainability program with irrigation systems that irrigate crops to feed the kids. They offer vocational training to the surrounding community so that they can provide services to Nyumbani (such as bee keeping and egg production). They offer micro-credits to the families involved in the community support program so that they can be weaned off the donations. They also are involved in reforestation projects. They do it all.

But they do face heart-wrenching obstacles. Apparently, the ARVs available are only a standard first line and a second line drug. In the US, the protocol is to test an individual’s resistance and tailor the first line drug to their specific strain and if that isn’t sufficient there are second and third lines available. However, in Kenya they only provide a generalized first line drug and if resistance is observed a generalized second line. Sister Mary, the head nun, mentioned that right now there is a 15 yr old boy who was determined to be resistant to the second line drug but they don’t have any other options available for his treatment. She refuses to tell him that he is going to die because drugs that are available in hi-income countries are not reaching his lo-income country. So, she is lobbying at this Conference and other areas in order to seek help in getting the third line drug.

This charismatic, passionate sister with a wealth of knowledge about this population mentions that if social justice isn’t a good enough reason for people to help perhaps being reminded that this newly bred super resistant strain will reach the developed world eventually – The Catholic nuns don’t disappoint on offering threats! 😉

Nyumbani http://www.nyumbani.org
Protis Lumiti Chief Manager protis@nyumbani.org
Mary Owens Executive Director mary@nyumbani.org

Roundtable discussion – The Role of NGOs and Civil Society in Helping Achieve the MDGs

The Roundtable discussions consist of multiple panelists that discuss questions posed to them from the audience regarding the specific subject of the discussion. I have to mention it gets a little lively when you give people the freedom to stand up on their soapbox for one minute to preach their viewpoint. The questions posed by the audience were at times insightful and at times anarchist.

This panel included individuals from an Afghan education program, an Australia midwife from World Vision, an African doctor, and a Cuban physician. The overall message was that programs need to be of benefit for the government in order to receive support, that community mobilization and ownership of the MDGs is essential in their success, and that the lack of primary healthcare is causing a gap that the NGOs are compelled to fill.

Dr. Aleida Guevara, the Cuban physician, was exceptionally well spoken and her words remain with me. When speaking on healthcare as a right she mentioned that “the right to life is non-negotiable.” Additionally, she believed that in order to gain community support an NGO must “not say what need to be done but do what need to be done”.

Dr. Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega, the African doctor, touched on a point that I naively had not previously considered regarding the barriers to NGO collaboration. She enlightened me by stating that often times because funding donors come from diverse backgrounds and often dictate relations they segregate the NGOs.


After day 1 of the Conference I am inspired by the work these NGOs manage to accomplish given the lack of resources, lack of collaboration and support and often inefficient methods. I believe they are innovators and visionaries that offer a wealth of knowledge about their populations and the fields of interest. Plus, most of them are incredibly talent public speakers.