Prior to Cape Town in 2015, affected community and civil society presence at the Union World Conference looked quite different. There was no official community space; civil society groups banded together each year to host sessions within a double-wide booth in the exhibition hall, to as many people as could fit into the limited seating and standing room without spilling out into the other exhibitors.
At the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in 2015, The Union hosted Imbizo – the first community-focused space at the Union World Conference, featuring sessions run by and focused on issues of importance to communities, cultural performances, NGO exhibition booths and impressive art displays. It was a turning point – communities had been demanding more for years and were finally starting to see results.
This year for the first time, Community Connect was comprised of nothing but content solely created, reviewed, selected, and programmed by communities. The Union Community Advisory Panel (UCAP) decided on four thematic content tracks and put a call out for organisations to lead the review and selection of all the content to be featured in each track. In addition to those selected to be part of the live programme, anyone else who wished was invited to pre-record their session to be included in the on-demand section of the conference programme.
While we could not all be together in person this year and experience the usual vibrance and excitement, Community Connect continued to be filled with exciting, engaging conversations, new science and ideas, and renewed calls for action. Participants who had never been able to attend a Union World Conference previously had access to all four days of content and were able to engage with colleagues and peers in real time from across the world. For everything we are missing this year, we have also managed to gain quite a bit.
Affected communities and civil society have been actively engaged in ensuring that tuberculosis (TB) and other lung health care has still been prioritised this year alongside COVID-19, and this year’s programme featured sessions explaining some of the ways they have been doing so: from the creation of a roadmap to help guide Indigenous communities across a range of countries in seeking information and care, to stories from TB champions in India as to how they’re addressing COVID-19 in their country.
For the first time ever, session organisers were able to offer translation services in both live and pre-recorded sessions, further increasing the accessibility of the content and space. Start, Stop and Continue: what needs to change so that communities are better supported to lead the charge on TB and co-morbidities in the time of COVID-19 was presented in both English and French, and Hopes and Concerns- community-led responses addressing HIV-TB co-infection during COVID-19 times was also made available in Russian.
Community Connect is – and always will be – open access to any- and everyone. Until 30 November, you can find all live and pre-recorded sessions through the conference programme, or at any time on The Union’s YouTube channel.