Gilead Shut Down -- Second Pharmaceutical Exhibition Struck by Protest
For the second day in a row, an AIDS drug manufacturer's exhibition has been ransacked in protest by ACT-UP Paris. The goal of the protest was to draw attention to ACT-UP's frustration over the high prices of AIDS drugs worldwide and the opposition the drug manufacturers have mounted to the distribution of generic drugs in the developing world. Outrage has been expressed by representatives from numerous developing countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa regarding the lack of drug therapies available to those affected by HIV/AIDS. Representatives from US advocacy organizations also participated in the "takeover," expressing concern over the lack of affordable drugs in the United States and the lack of sufficient government funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).
Secretary Thompson Receives Cold Welcome
What was scheduled to be a Special Session on the "US Domestic Response: Global Solutions," to combat HIV/AIDS turned out to be a cold reception for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and the entire delegation from the Bush Administration. The Secretary had not finished his first sentence before protestors stormed the stage demanding that the G8 increase their financial contribution to the Global Fund to Fight TB, Malaria and AIDS. The Secretary's repeated attempts to continue his presentation were met by ever increasing chants of "money for AIDS, not war ... fund the global fund."
After approximately 20 minutes, the protest died down temporarily, but was reinvigorated at the Secretary's pronouncement of the "great contributions the US has made in the effort." This statement was met with an even more adamant chant of "no more lies." The protestors were then joined by numerous individuals in the audience that applauded their efforts, joined in the chanting or began a silent protest of standing, backs-turned, to the stage.
The overwhelming chanting muted the entirety of Secretary Thompson's speech and the conclusion could only be discerned by the standing ovation he received by the other Administration representatives that accompanied him to the event. The Secretary and the Administration representatives left the conference room immediately following his presentation.
The protest was followed by a press conference where Secretary Thompson and the Bush Administration was challenged to increase both their international and domestic funds for HIV/AIDS treatment, care, prevention and research. The flat funding of Ryan White CARE Act, Minority AIDS Initiative (for the second consecutive year) and the current crisis in the ADAP program were examples used by the presenters to show the lack of commitment of the Bush Administration with regard to the fight against AIDS "even in our own country."
Executive Director of Global Fund Challenges All Nations
Following Secretary Thompson's presentation, Dr. Richard Feachem, in his first public appearance as the Executive Director of the Global Fund, challenged all nations, especially the G8, to increase their financial support for the Fund. Dr. Feachem described the Fund as a financial instrument designed to attract, manage and strategically disburse additional resources in countries with the greatest need and, under his direction, will be a source for vital funds with limited bureaucracy.
Increased Risk Behavior Among MSM Increasing STD and HIV
Research scientists from the Netherlands, Canada, Spain and the United States expressed concerns today regarding the increase in risk behavior among men who have sex with men (MSM) communities and the parallel increase in sexually transmitted diseases. In the Netherlands, there is a significant syphilis outbreak and a gonorrhea epidemic that rivals 1984 levels of infection. In the United Kingdom, statistics from studies held between 1990 and 2000 shoe a steady increase in STDs among MSMs that parallel the pattern of higher numbers of sex partners. The United States presented a study conducted by the Stop-AIDS project that showed a disturbing trend in younger MSMs having multiple sex partners and participating in higher risk behaviors.
Reduce Harm Through Education and Access
The calls for worldwide governmental support for harm reduction strategies continue to be voiced at the international conference. A multinational panel of epidemiologists and health care providers presented evidence regarding the effectiveness of free and available condoms and clean syringes in reducing HIV transmission. The panel concluded that any national strategy to reduce the number of new HIV cases must include a significant harm reduction model in order to be truly effective.
IPM Continues Advocacy for Microbicide Development
The International Partnership for Microbicides held a Satellite Session to mobilize conference participants around the need for microbicide development. Microbicides offer women and men an option for barrier-method protection against sexually transmitted diseases in addition to the condom or female condom. The theory utilizes antibacterials that can be used in gels, creams, etc. and can be applied without the knowledge of the other sex partner. This technology is believed to have the potential to empower millions of women worldwide who are not in a position to effectively negotiate for the use of condoms. The Partnership requested that individuals take a four-point message back to their constituencies:
- women having options:
- support the development of preventive technologies,
- governments and corporations must invest more resources for microbicides;
- end the "silence" about sex:
- abstinence only discussions are not effective and are divisive,
- ensure adolescents get all available information;
- violence against women must end -- zero tolerance; and
- access to economic empowerment for all:
- education must be available to all,
- property ownership and inheritance should be available to all.