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AIDS is Not About Politicians August 14, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in News and politics, United Nations.
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Sunday marked the commencement of the sixteenth International AIDS Conference and with it came what will surely be a media diversion that will pull away from what this week is all about. Approximately 27,000 HIV/AIDS scientists, activists, journalists and patients were on hand when Dr. Mark Wainberg, a prominent AIDS researcher, began the evening with an attack on Prime minister Stephen Harper by saying, “HIV is one of the worst enemies we have on this planet. Why is Mr. Harper not here to show leadership on the world stage? As a Canadian it breaks my heart.” He continued by accusing Harper of “poor politics” but suggested to the audience that they shouldn’t put any of the blame onto Tony Clement, The Minister of Health, who was going to speak in the upcoming minutes. But Pandora’s box had been opened and when it was turn for Mr. Clement to make his comments, loud chants of “Where is Stephen Harper?” were repeated several times over, and the camera kept returning to a sign that read, “Sleep in Steve? HIV Never Sleeps!” It’s true, HIV does not sleep, and that’s why Harper’s absence should make headlines during the next election campaign, not during the remainder of the conference in Toronto.

As the evening went on, there were no further references to Stephen Harper and the focus returned to its proper place. Ontario’s Premiere and Toronto’s Mayor each brought up how great it was to be from Ontario, or the sights to be seen in Toronto, but these promotional words lead into the issues at hand. One of, in my opinion, Premiere Dalton Mcguinty’s strongest messages came through when he said, “we know that teaching abstinence as the only solution is to be willfully blind to human nature.” Indeed. Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS, spoke openly about the dangers of being selective about who should be helped. Whether the are homosexual, drug users or sex workers, he reminded the viewers that AIDS does not discriminate its victims and that it would be catastrophic for humanity to do so. He seemed weary about the forum he generally speaks in because after making these straightforward comments, he said that in their regard they were, ”words that cannot get through in the general assembly.” During Bill Gates’ speech, he praised the Bush administration for its efforts to fight the disease and there were grumblings in the audience. As if AIDS has anything directly to do with the War in Iraq or other administrative blunders that have occurred since he was elected. AIDS is ignorant of politicians, yet everyone I’ve mentioned thus far is a politician or represents the political sphere in some way, shape or form.

The reason for this is simple. It is the governments of the world, elected or otherwise, that are responsible for the largest contributions to fight the plight that is inflicting their people. Of the 9.5 billion dollars pledged towards the Global Fund, just over 8.8 billion of those dollars are supposedly coming from the governments. Political organisms do indeed represent the largest contribution in fighting for a cure. So how can I say AIDS is not about politics? Simply because the issue here is about the people that suffer, those who die by the millions. AIDS is about human ignorance, social stigmas, dangerous ideals, the voiceless majority but more importantly, it’s about our efforts to do away with the affliction. It’s time to comb away our fantasy that AIDS is about anything else and focus on the task at hand.

My experience with the disease is very limited primarily because of my nationality. I was once in an audience during a presentation by two women who had been tested positive for HIV but were getting by, some months better than others, by sharing their story. It was during this session that one of the speakers pointed me out and claimed that it looked as if I had seen better days, and wondered if there was anything she could do to help. I must confess, I hit the bottle a bit hard the previous night and presumably it showed. Her eagerness to inquire about my state of mind while she herself was a carrier of a disease to which there is no cure allowed me better understand what AIDS is. It helped me understand why there is always a way out. It helped me better define hope. Sometimes I want to cry for months. AIDS should never be about politicians or the subsequent corridor cocktail parties that follow. The tragedy, is that far too often that is precisely what it becomes.

Stephen Harper decided that defence of the Canadian arctic was more important than attending the conference. So be it. Sadly, too large a portion of the upcoming week in Toronto will be about just that. It is a shame that too much of the country will focus their attention on his absence, on his politics. I am not suggesting that his absence should be ignored. I just know that this conference is not the proper forum to be discussing it. This is simply what I see.

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