Causes, Experiences

HIV: A heavyweight in my suitcase

I have been travelling to different countries for a long time. I was born in one country and raised in another. My parents are not only from different countries, they are from different continents.

Canada, USA, inter-railing in Europe, a university internship in overseas, four years abroad for my first job, volunteering in different African countries and tourism around the world. So far, I have visited 26 countries in total.

I can not imagine no longer travelling and exploring other places of the world. Travelling from one place to another is what has made me the person I am today.

But now things won’t be as easy as saving money and booking holidays.

Since I found out I was HIV positive my life has been passing in slow motion. Each day I am more conscience about how much my life has changed. It won’t be as simple as taking some pills each day for the rest of my life. Now I need to check laws. Am I allowed to enter this country? For how long? Work permit? Resident permit? Will I be able to continue my career in international development?

There are 24 countries where I could get deported if they found out I am HIV positive.

From now on I am categorized as PLHIV (people living with HIV) and I will face discrimination in my international movements.

For example, long stays for study or work require permits that could include an HIV test. I am not against HIV testing if it is done with the intention of stopping people from remaining infected without knowing it. But when tests are used simply to deny visas, I cannot support them.

The Global Database on HIV related travel restrictions gives different categories:

  • Countries without restrictions.
  • Countries with entry bar.
  • Countries with short term restrictions.
  • Countries with long term restrictions.
  • Countries with unclear laws/practices; more information needed.
  • Countries without information.
  • Countries deporting people with HIV.

I encourage you to check about your own country legislations.


Fig. 1. Status of HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, and residence in 193 member states of the World Health Organization in June 2011.

We are in 2015, and just 5 years ago, the USA removed its “travel ban” for PLHIV to enter, stay or reside – the ban that meant there could not be international HIV/AIDS conferences in USA. This ban was place from 1987, the year I was born.

Some bans are supposedly based on economic concerns: how much does HIV cost the national health system?

If the reasons are economic why not extend the travel ban to people with other diseases/disabilities or family history of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, alzheimers, alcoholism, mental disorders or obesity? Those cost a lot of money too.

In real life, nobody is free of getting sick at some time or another.

Other justifications are based on the perceived danger to public health or public safety. As somebody with HIV, I have developed a high awareness of my situation and I and other HIV positive people engage in different levels of activism to reduce new infections. This does not mean that all people with HIV are “good citizens”, but this goes beyond moral or judicial judgement, also applied to non-positive citizens.

To be forced to declare your positive status, if you will face discrimination to obtain a visa, only dissuades people from getting tested.

HIV ban restrictions don’t stop the spread. People need to get tested to prevent new infections, but this won’t be universalized until HIV positive people stop suffering from stigma and discrimination.

I have already travelled abroad since discovering my HIV status. I took a note from my doctor in case I faced some problems carrying my medicine. My next step will be to move back to my host country in Africa, where I will sign my contract, my boss will pay all the legal requirements for a non-citizen and I will start paying taxes.

My diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t contribute.


Course Reviews: Communication for Development at Malmö University

There are a lot of development related degrees out there. So many, in fact, it can be overwhelming. To help people out, we’ll be running several reviews of courses. If you would like to contribute a review of a course you’ve taken or if you want to attract more students to your programme please email


Communication for Development (ComDev) is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies in culture, communication and development integrated with practical fieldwork. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the context of globalisation.

While Communication Studies commonly is associated with concepts like information, media and messages, Communication for Development not only encompasses these terms, but also embraces a much broader approach. ComDev focuses on approaches that work to facilitate dialogue and define priorities for messages and information, but most importantly, on social processes to involve people in their development – making people active participants, and not only passive receivers of messages and information.

From its start in 2000, ComDev set out to be an academic programme available to everyone, everywhere, even those students unable to relocate for their university studies. One of the key aspects of this approach is our livestreams where our students can follow the lectures in real time, no matter where they are in the world. These livestreamed sessions also allow students to interact with their peers and the teachers and to engage in group discussions and assignments.

Our student body is diverse: culturally, geographically and in their academic and professional backgrounds. This allows our students to deepen their knowledge within their existing area of expertise while also gaining a broad overview based on the academic backgrounds and practical experiences of their peers, allowing them to be able to work both interdisciplinarily and transculturally in their future professions. Many of our students and alumni work in professional media companies, international organisations (governmental and non-governmental) or are undertaking doctoral studies.

The programme runs part-time over two years and is conducted online with the opportunity of attending two or three weekend seminars in person. During their first year, our students receive a comprehensive overview of globalisation and an introduction to the field of Communication for Development. During their second year, the students are introduced to the use of new media and ICT in a development context and receive a thorough introduction to research methodologies in order to prepare them for their final thesis.

The benefits of studying in an international setting with the opportunity to interact with students from all around the world is a great asset to the programme and in combination with students who are working in ComDev-related fields, the opportunity to share experiences provides added value. ComDev embraces the international mind-set when planning for seminars and to date we have held seminars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, South Africa and Tanzania to name a few and we encourage our students to attend the seminars in person if they have the opportunity.

When writing their theses, we recommend students to conduct field studies and our students have had the opportunity of doing fieldwork in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. We always encourage our students to think outside the box and employ innovativeness and creativity to their fieldwork experiences. ComDev theses have included documentaries, short films, photo essays and a wide array of dissertations presented in exciting and original formats.

As an addition to our master’s programme, we offer a part-time course called Advances in Communication for Development, which aims to enhance skills and deepen knowledge in the strategic use of media and communication in development cooperation. Students are given the opportunity to independently plan, implement and evaluate a ComDev intervention. From 2014 this course is also offered as Commission Education for organisations and companies.


Twitter: @mahcomdev



Optimism In Africa

A recent Gallup poll found that Sub-Saharan Africa is the most optimistic region in the world. Obviously confused by a result so counter popular perceptions, Gallup speculated as to the cause of such a strange result, concluding that “optimism may be more widespread in these countries simply because people cannot imagine that their lives could get any worse.”

Mike Mieson on Why Dev recently posted a great critique of that explanation, using Gallup’s data and some insight from the World Bank to depict a much more hearty explanation than this “well it can’t get worse” rationale.

Much of his explanation rests on trends of economic growth and strides in health that have been observed throughout Africa during the decade. Most of the nations that top the list of most optimistic countries, Mieson notes, have experienced periods of high GDP growth in the last five years as well as reductions in their maternal mortality rates.

I think Mieson hit the nail on the head as far as explaining the greatest contributors to this pattern of optimism in Africa. That being said, I think there is still something missing from his analysis.

The specific case of Senegal is instructive. There, a 2% growth rate and minimal reduction in maternal mortality rate do not seem to be sufficient enough to warrant Senegal’s place as the 9th most optimistic nation on the face of this Earth (especially when one considers the fact that Senegal shares this planet with nations like Turkmenistan that have experienced growth of about 20% over the last 5 years). Clearly some other mechanism is at work.

I would add to Mieson’s evaluation a third major contributing factor to Sub-Saharan Africa’s overwhelming optimism; improvements in governance.

This additional factor can help to explain Senegal’s optimism. The last decade has been characterized by some serious advancements in the legitimacy of that nation’s democracy. That is in no small part thanks to a growing youth social movement led by Y’en A Marre (Fed Up), a rag-tag assembly of reformist rappers and journalists. Y’en A Marre gained public support during the 2012 election by helping to dethrone then President Abdoulaye Wade, in favour of his former prime minister, Macky Sall. Turning down high profile government appointments following the election of Sall, Y’en A Marre has thus far been committed to building a Senegalese civil society and breaking down old procedures of reciprocity.

Shortly after losing power, it became clear that Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade and a high minister during his father’s 12 year rule, had been stealing state funds in an embezzlement scheme of quite shocking proportions (the charges add up to about $1.4 billion). Many Senegalese have been surprised to see the trial proceed with what seems to be an intent to punish the politician to the full extent of his crime. It appears Karim Wade will serve some serious time, and rightfully so.

Both of these trends certainly give Senegalese citizens reason for a bit of hope. There remains some well-warranted distaste for the political system. A common joke in Senegal combines the French word for politician (politicien) and dog (chien) into “politichien,” to form a little less than subtle political play on words [Ed: see ‘Politricks’]. That being said, the last decade has seen the ousting of an unpopular President, and the imprisonment of a corrupt politician who likely thought himself above the law; both certainly reasons for hope.

Improvements in government help to explain the data beyond Senegal as well. A recent study using 57 criteria including measures of security, rule of law, and transparency found that governments have been improving in the vast majority (about two thirds) of the countries on the continent. Certainly this plays a part in the continent’s optimism.

Alternatively, factoring in government can also help to explain some of the less optimistic nations on the African continent. In a Pew survey that also evaluated optimism across the globe, Egypt was ranked as the least optimistic nation of the African countries surveyed. Political turmoil there, following the Coup d’Etat that ousted President Morsi, can certainly go a long way in explaining some of that nation’s pessimism.

Cleary government has a role to play in shaping the average African’s expectations for the future.

In a continent too often associated with corrupt officials and autocratic sensibilities, some governments are slowly reforming for the better. As a result Africans are feeling particularly positive about their future prospects, and that of their children. Citizens are noticing positive changes on their continent. It’s time the folks over at Gallup do too.

Commentary, Platform

3 Ways To Improve International Youth Day

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. This sentiment was certainly relevant in the 1940s, in my opinion it rings even more true today, and perfectly captures the spirit of the International Youth Day. The global community may not be able to guarantee a perfect and rosy future, but they are capable of equipping young people with the tools, knowledge and experience to face these challenges themselves.

Every year on August 12, the United Nations and its member states observe International Youth Day, an occasion to celebrate the achievements of the world’s youth, and bring attention to the issues faced by this rapidly growing demographic. Which sounds great but I don’t think it’s clear how this day is actually meant to help anyone.

In fact, I feel like International Youth Day is more about paying lip-service to ‘youth issues’ than actually getting anything done.

Research has shown that countries with burgeoning youth populations are more susceptible to destabilizing forces, civil unrest, and conflict. When developing countries undergo the demographic transition, rising birth rates and falling death rates contribute to the emergence of a youth bulge within society. Having a large youth population can be a window of opportunity for economic growth and human development (see: the demographic dividend). But more often than not youth bulges are viewed in a negative light.

As we saw in Egypt, when a country fails to create opportunities for its young people (especially when they are trying to enter the work force), social and economic exclusion can fuel civil unrest, political protest, and even violent conflict.

Policy-makers are at a cross-road; find ways to incorporate youth, or suffer the consequences.

Youth make up approximately 1.8 billion people in the world today, and will inevitably have an enormous impact on shaping the world and its future. Finding new ways to engage, employ, and incorporate youth into society will be essential to realizing positive development outcomes around the world. These issues are not exclusive to developing countries. Low youth employment rates, disparities in education, rising inequality – sound familiar? We are facing these challenges in the West too.

While our experiences of economic exclusion may not be enough to culminate in a violent conflict, I can personally attest to feelings of hopelessness, neglect and disenchantment when searching for a job in my field. When millions of youth share this sentiment, it doesn’t exactly set the stage for growth, prosperity, or a golden age of human development.

So, what can be done? How can we engage youth so that they contribute towards a virtuous cycle of growth, stability, and development? While it’s certainly not rocket science, it will require a multi-sectoral approach with governments, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society working together and playing a role. Here are three simple strategies that I think would make a big difference:

1. Listen

Societies can become more inclusive by listening to youth, and providing channels for them to express their opinions and participate in public life. Luckily, we live in a hyper-connected world, and the prevalence of ICTs has opened the door to this consultative process. Young people have the right to participate in the decisions and structures which affect their lives, and governments should facilitate this.

2. Collaborate

When adults collaborate with youth, it is a win-win situation; young people gain practical experiences that can help to reinforce their role as active citizens, and adults learn how to look at old problems in new ways, gaining new insights through a youth perspective. Organizations should make more of an effort to facilitate internships, co-ops, and volunteer opportunities for youth. If they emphasize the benefits of getting involved and ensure that these positions are adequately broadcast, young people will capitalize on the opportunity.

3. Invest

Investing in youth not only brings rewards to the individual, but also to their family and their community at large. Building human capital through investing in youth education, skills training and health care must be the cornerstone of development efforts today and in the future. For me, one of the biggest benefits of investing in youth is enhanced self-confidence. When you have people investing in your future and supporting you every step of the way – the sky is the limit. It is in this type of environment where the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit takes root, and sets the stage for growth, stability, and development for years to come.