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What an AIDS conference should look like

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What an AIDS conference should look like

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Taking stock following the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington
“Medically and scientifically, nothing spectacular,” said Dr Philip Berger over the phone from Washington toward the end of the 19th International AIDS Conference, held July 22 to 29. “AIDS as an inflammatory disease, basic science on activating latent cells so the virus can be killed, looking at accentuated aging and higher prevalence of unrelated illnesses like diabetes and heart disease . . . all tiny, incremental bits of knowledge.”
 
It was perhaps this lack of hard news that made the major story coming out of the conference that of Timothy Ray Brown, the “Berlin Patient.” Brown, who had leukemia, went through the dangerous, last-resort procedure of first having his immune system wiped out with chemotherapy, then getting a bone marrow transplant to reboot it. The procedure also managed to kill off his HIV. That’s not exactly practical for those of us living with the virus. Brown was very lucky to survive it. As well, for anyone who has been paying attention, this was old news. Brown actually spoke about his experience in Toronto at the OHTN research conference back in 2011.
 
So does this all mean the conference was a flop? I didn’t go this time, but I’ve been at the last three, and I’ve heard the grumbling — increasingly about photo ops for stars and politicians; just a PR and advertising moment for big pharma; a playground for activists; if there is a medical breakthrough, nobody waits for a conference; it’s all over the web in minutes; a colossal waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.
 
On the other hand, my inbox has been filled with reports from AIDS Action Now and others. They denounced US immigration rules that prevented sex workers and drug users from getting to Washington and wrapped the Canadian booth with yellow caution tape labelled “Harper Government — Evidence Free Zone.”
 
Then there were the images of Dr Berger being hustled away by a burly security guard after he confronted Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq about federal government cuts to health services for refugees, the massive “We Can End AIDS” march to the White House demanding economic justice and human rights, including a “Tobin Tax” on financial transactions to pay for global health, and Health Minister Aglukkaq again, this time framed by a huge banner declaring “Harm Reduction = Life,” as Canadian activists turned their backs on her speech at the regional session.
 
While some complain that the “decline” of scientific and medical news shows that the conferences are becoming less relevant, I would argue that it reflects a deeper shift in what is relevant in ending AIDS.
 
When we seized the stage at the fifth International AIDS Conference in Montreal in 1989, we needed medicines to keep us alive. Today we have medicines that (imperfectly) do that, but around the world, people continue to die. We know how to keep people well. We just don’t do it. Medical science grinds on, producing its incremental knowledge, but increasingly, social issues are coming to the fore as key to ending the epidemic.
 
Even the conference-opening session, featuring luminaries such as Anthony Fauci and Hillary Clinton, pointed out that we already possess the tools necessary to end the epidemic. And the talk about finding a cure that used the Berlin Patient as a springboard was more about marshalling the political will and resources to speed up research than about research itself.
 
So it wasn’t surprising that Dr Eric Mykhalovskiy is more upbeat. He’s a sociology professor at York University, and much of his recent work has focused on criminalization of HIV. “AIDS 2012 saw the emergence of a global movement against the criminalization of HIV.  We had a fabulous meeting organized by Edwin Bernard with activists from Canada, US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, England and elsewhere, sharing for the first time political and other strategies for stopping the criminalization of HIV nondisclosure.” Back in Canada, interest around criminalization generated by the conference contributed to the Toronto Star’s publication of an important op-ed piece on how snowballing criminal prosecutions for nondisclosure are fanning the flames of the epidemic
 
AIDS Action Now’s Alex McClelland said he found the conference “quite inspiring for once.” He noted the development of a critique of the acronym MSM, more attention paid to gay men, and more talk about how homophobia is driving the epidemic. He was also happy to see indigenous people's issues much more present, with the first-ever main conference session bringing together indigenous leaders on HIV from Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico and other countries, and an “amazing” Decolonize HIV networking zone.
 
If many of the key issues about AIDS have now shifted from the medical to the social, activism represents the political muscle to actually demand implementation. Conferences have become an opportunity to hold governments accountable and embarrass them on an international stage when they screw up. When AIDS Action Now chanted, “Harper Equals Death” and wrapped the Canadian booth in caution tape, when activists interrupted Aglukkaq's speech, they were bringing an important message about the implications of government policies and undermining the rigid Harper party line that everything is just fine in Canada.
 
"Harper's agenda is to dismantle our country's health and social safety net. His moralistic and criminalizing policies on drug use and opposition to harm reduction are creating a perfect storm for HIV and hep C infections to explode," explained Zoe Dodd, a harm-reduction activist and member of AIDS Action Now.
 
The other major buzz building since the last conference in Vienna was talk about “Treatment = Prevention.” Those of us under successful anti-viral treatment are largely uninfectious. So the idea is that the spread of HIV can be stopped if everyone is on treatment. But Dr Alan Li, known for his frontline HIV work among immigrants in Toronto, pointed out it’s not nearly that simple: “The treatment-as-prevention bandwagon has left the station and is proceeding full force, with very limited analysis and discussion on the feasibility, practicality or ethical implications of its implementation. The increasing emphasis on biotechnical/biomedical interventions for prevention versus behavioural/educational approaches brings both promise and huge warning signs to the frontline.” Thanks to Washington, that questioning has begun. Medical science must listen to social science.
 
Since the emergence of AIDS activism in the late 1980s, we’ve always known the path to ending AIDS was as much political as scientific and medical. And as medical science has advanced, policy decisions about how that knowledge gets deployed – as well as the social science research that should inform those decisions and activists' political pressure to see them implemented – have become even more crucial. That’s what AIDS conferences increasingly need to be about.
 
  
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Comments

There are many haters but that will never co
There are many haters but that will never compare to the quality of admires.
Tim, I wish there were more men like you in this world, It would be a better place <3 we must recognize the determent's of health and the importance of social services!

Tim xoxo
Nope
on average, HIV in Canada still kills people about 12-15 years sooner than the general public. 60-80% are MSM, even though the numbers are often quoted lower (a lot of men don't want to say they had sex with men). anyone reading this "piece of journalism" should note Tim McCaskell is part of Canada's HIV non-disclosure criminalization resistance group, he has had HIV since the 80s and he blatantly lied on CBC TV news just a few months back when interviewed during the Mabior Supreme Court case.
More HIV Misinformation
“Those of us under successful anti-viral treatment are largely uninfectious.” McKaskell is still drumming the same old misinformation. What does “largely” mean? The Truvada study says: “FDA’s July 16 decision to approve the drug was based in part on the results of the three-year iPrEx trial, which showed that Truvada’s daily use by men who have sex with men reduced instances of HIV infection by 42%—90% for participants who took the medication consistently enough to have detectable drug levels in their body.” “approved for use in conjunction with other safer-sex tools such as condom use” (Nathaniel Christopher XTRA, July 20,2012) ¡¡¡ REDUCED !!! 42%—90% —“if”... -Reduced from what??? - There are too many variables to guarantee “uninfectiousness.” And what about those who do not tolerate iPrEx or PrEP or those who do not take it consistently. The euphemisms used in this article give HIV+people permission to have sex with others without disclosure. 42%—90% reduction of infection is not “absolute zero” infectiousness. It is still prudent to be afraid to have sex with someone HIV+. There is still 10%—48% chance of the original rate of infection, that you may catch HIV.
Israel is not Gay Friendly but Gay Tolerant
@David -Are the racist, homophobic rabbis of Israel “Gay Friendly”? Is the Israeli religious right “Gay Friendly”? NO! They are preventing the legalization of Gay Marriage in Israel. Although Israel the state recognizes the marriage of Gays from other countries--which is more than their Muslim neighbours are doing...So Israel is not really “Gay Friendly” as much as Gay Tolerant. Friendly and tolerant are slightly different. Although I would take tolerant (Israel) over hateful (Muslims).
The QuAIA-AIDS activist complex
Tim McCaskell of QuAIA and AIDS Action Now would have you believe that hateful, left-wing activists in QuAIA and AIDS Action Now are responsible for the better lot of people living with HIV in Ontario. The greatest advance for HIV-positive people has been the ongoing development of better and better anti-HIV drugs. Those drugs were developed by highly-educated scientists funded by drug companies - not hateful, left-wing activists in QuAIA and AIDS Action Now. While Tim McCaskell would have you believe that hateful, left-wing activists in QuAIA and AIDS Action Now are responsible for the Ontario Trillium Drug Program which subsidizes the costs of anti-HIV drugs for many low-income and middle-income people, he ignores the fact that many other people inside and outside the gay community lobbied the Ontario Government for that program. Progress in the fight against HIV has been furthered by many people. It’s not because 20 underemployed people from QuAIA and AIDS Action Now periodically march, chant, growl and stomp their feet at various venues – when they’re not attacking gay-friendly Israel.
I guess you would have had to be there to know...
...that AIDS activists from all over the world took the opportunity provided by the Canadian protests to learn more about the state of affairs in Canada, and rather than being disgusted at the activists, they were disgusted with the Canadian federal government for its repressive and retrograde policies that activists from other countries are well aware will only serve to fuel the HIV epidemic. Of course, you would have had to crawl out from under your rock to have witnessed that, but...
Embarrasing
I'm pretty sure the AIDS activists from countries like South Africa, Swaziland, etc were just looking at the Canadian AIDS activists with disgust. Welcome to the world of leftist-queer-HIV activists from looney-toon Toronto. They live in a relative paradise but still manage to put on a show of victimhood.
on a deserted island where no one should care
sodomites really like to celebrate how they caught the AIDS.
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