Last week Toronto played host to the 16th International AIDS conference, a biennial summit that brings together HIV professionals, philanthropists, politicians, artists, writers and victims from all walks of life. It was a week of solidarity, hope and action through future thought for the 30, 000 participants representing the close to 40 million living with the infection/disease today and those 25 million who have died as a result of it. The theme for AIDS 06 was “Time to Deliver”, they should have added a “Now” at the end of that…
Two news items relating to the twin weapons of prevention and cure require mention here while at least two G-8 governments require a duo of tight slaps.
First up, courtesy of a great post on Pass the Roti (Thanks, Ennis!) we have details of a Bangladeshi group ‘Durjoy Nari Shangha’ having to close down sex-worker aid and education centers in Dhaka in order to keep in accord with US funding conditions:
The sex workers collective — its name translates roughly as “organization of women who are hard to repress” — had 20 drop-in centers before December, offering sex and literacy education as well as moral support, toilets and a place to wash and rest for up to 5,000 women. It closed them after signing what aid groups call the “prostitution loyalty oath” that requires groups receiving USAID funding to have a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. The group now has just four centers, geared to children and children’s rights. Bagum said that before the centers closed, the group sold 73,000 condoms a month. That has fallen to 30,000, even though health experts agree that condoms are the best way of stopping the spread of AIDS.[Link]
A PEPFAR spokesperson had this to say:
“Our office has not received information that drop-in centers have closed, or that there has been any interruption in services that target sex workers as a result of our anti-prostitution policy,” she said. “Critics who continue to spread misinformation about (the plan’s) policies are causing fear and confusion.”
USAID HIV/AIDS funding is overseen by the directives outlined in the “United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003”. The act clearly states that:
“No funds made available to carry out this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.” [Link]
Here’s the kicker:
In May 2006, two American judges ruled in two separate cases that this funding restriction violated the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution – the right to free speech – and so could not be applied to the U.S.-based organisations that brought the cases. This probably means that all U.S.-based organisations will be exempted from the clause. However, all overseas groups wishing to receive U.S. Government funding, whether directly or indirectly, must still comply. Numerous non-governmental organisations and public health experts believe that the clause is harmful and should be removed.
I have a generally sunny disposition but I hope the sick geezers who fought to include this clause and its cousins “preach abstinence and being faithful for a third of the total prevention budget” and “no funds for syringe exchange programs anywhere” rot in Mordor.
On the other hand, here in Cuh-nay-da we have a stubborn Prime Minister who chose not to attend the conference at all, even though it took place less than a four hour drive from his official residence. This has been bugging me for days, how does a Prime Minister who has less than stellar popular support in foreign and environmental policy refuse to recognize an international AIDS conference in the one city that didn’t vote a single member of his party into parliament? Stubborn ass or scared of the past? Though tempted to go former I will take the latter. PM Harper would have had to answer some uncomfortable questions about a pledge made by the Canadian government to provide cheap generic drugs for underdeveloped nations and how a single pill has yet to leave the country.
The Access to Medicines Regime was to export generically produced drugs at a lower cost to countries in need. However, manufacture was limited to Canadian generic drug companies. More than two years later Canadian-made generic drugs are having a hard time getting through the red tape. Once on the other side, they find themselves lagging in price value to Indian-made drugs. This coupled with anxieties about trade rules among eligible nations who refuse to identify themselves for compulsory licensing is turning a decent deed into a complete dud. Time to wake up and come to work, Mr. Harper.
An ending quote then, from South African activist Mark Heywood:
“We have the means, so what stops us from acting?Â” he said. “And what should be done about those in power who refuse to act? These are the most pertinent questions facing the next stage of the AIDS epidemic.” [Link]