We have heard that a number of AIDS scientists and researchers, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, are complaining that not enough interesting science will be presented at the Durban conference in July to warrant their attendance.
We have heard that some pharmaceutical companies are decreasing the number of representatives they are sending because there might be demonstrations.
We wonder whether their hidden agenda is to punish the South African government for challenging the stranglehold drug companies have on drug marketing, distribution, and cost.
We have heard that there are calls to boycott the conference because South African government has talked to so-called AIDS dissidents.
We, the largest growing population of positive people in Africa and the world; we, the women who are living and dying with AIDS, send a call to all the scientists, researchers, drug companies, journalists, and activists: Get Over It! Get over to South Africa in July. This is the international conference being held in South Africa. It is not the South African government's conference. We are the people you study; we are the people your research/science careers are based on. Not coming to the conference will accomplish little except to punish thousands of infected and affected people who are keenly looking forward to attending this conference and see it as part of developing a stronger and more effective response to the devastation in Africa and world-wide.
To the pharmaceutical companies, we say, "Has there been an international AIDS conference without demonstrations? Has another country besides South Africa ever issued more reassuring statements about security? We don't think so."
The South African government is very involved in debates and struggle around HIV/AIDS. We may, from our different perspectives, disagree with them or not. But ICW is very clear that threatening to boycott the Durban conference is not the answer.
What message does a boycott, or threats, or complaints about not enough exciting science, send to the majority of countries in Africa, Asia, Brazil, and America facing a continuing and growing AIDS epidemic? That they don't count enough to bother about in person? That Africa is too unknown to contemplate if you live in a rich country? That no one outside of mainly western countries has the brains to appreciate or understand biomedicine?
We are not simply the subject of your inquiries or studies, or the hungry consumers of your pharmaceutical products. Although we need drugs, services, and supplies, we who live and die with HIV are more than just sad statistics. We are more than passive recipients of what drug companies, scientists, or governments think we should be.
We must all work together. Bring your expertise to Durban. Show your commitment by actions, not just words. Report on both science and sociological developments. Demand to go to Durban.
On behalf of the many people living with HIV/AIDS who will be at this conference, and for women living with HIV/AIDS in particular, we issue this challenge:
Issued by International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) of the co-organisers of the XIII International AIDS Conference.
Founded in 1992, ICW is the only international network of HIV-positive women. Our aim is to improve the situation of women living with HIV through self-empowerment and dissemination of information. We are open to all living with HIV. Our members come from approximately 100 countries, the majority living in Africa.
For more information about ICW, contact the coordinating office in London.