Pubdate: Fri, 3 Dec 2010
Source: Strand, The (CN ON Edu)
Copyright: 2010 The Strand
Author: Deanna Henderson
Cited: Vienna Declaration:


Canada Flounders As Global Leader at 18th International AIDS Conference

When HIV/AIDS first crept onto medical radar in the early 1980s, it
was a mystery. Doctors from the U.S., France, Zaire, and Haiti noticed
that patients, their immune systems overwhelmed, were dying from
infections an otherwise healthy body would be able to fight off. By
1983, French medical researchers had isolated the virus HIV (Human
Immunodeficiency Virus), which attacks the immune system and leaves
the body vulnerable to infections and cancers. HIV was later connected
to the development of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome - when
the body is no longer able to protect itself from infection.)

The AIDS pandemic has been shadowed by a fear epidemic, stemming from
when little was known about the disease beyond that it was perceived
as a "death sentence," and propelled over time by stigmas.

These prejudice range from the popular, albeit misconceived, term for
the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s as the "gay plague" to Rob Ford's usual
hidebound remarks. 1 Dec. was World AIDS Day, founded in the late
1980s, which strives to raise awareness and dispel stigmas about
HIV/AIDS. The World AIDS Day campaign doesn't only encourage awareness
through collective action, it also challenges world leaders to commit
to, and realize the connection between, universal access to health
care and human rights.

At this year's 18th annual International AIDS Conference (held in
Vienna from 18 - 23 July) the Canadian government demonstrated its
abiding unwillingness to make global commitments (one example among
many was when the Harper government refused to fund birth control for
any foreign aid projects concerned with maternal health). The federal
government refused to sign the Vienna Declaration, an official
International AIDS Conference document, published by The Lancet
medical journal, which proposes to improve health and safety by using
scientific evidence as a basis for national policies bout drug use.

The declaration has been endorsed by people like Stephen Lewis, a
former UN envoy on AIDS in Africa and founder of the Stephen Lewis
Foundation, and by some of the world's leading HIV and drug scientific
organizations like International AIDS Society. However, the Canadian
government repudiated the document because it is not consistent with
Canada's drug policy.

While there are needle exchange and outreach programs instituted on
the provincial level, the federal government's drug policy falls on
prohibition and rehabilitation. This "War on Drugs," a socially
conservative - some would say reactionary - policy, eschews one of the
greater social concerns outlined in Vienna Declaration, that the "HIV
epidemics fuelled by the criminalization of people who use illicit
drugs and by prohibitions on the provision of sterile needles and
opioid substitution treatment."

Refusing to endorse the Vienna Declaration is not the federal
government's first step backwards concerning the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This summer, the Harper government and the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation cancelled plans to build a multi-million dollar HIV/AIDS
vaccine facility in Canada. Only obtuse explanations were offered
about research proposals being inadequate, that studies showed global
networks were "sufficient," and that there was a "renewed" funding
plan (which has been criticized for being vague on how funding for
HIV/AIDS research will be distributed and prioritized).

The World AIDS Day initiative wants people to "Act Aware," maybe the
Canadian government will give more than a second thought as to why
Canada's booth at the International AIDS Conference was vandalised by
HIV/AIDS activists. The Canadian government should heed the words of
Canadians, like Stephen Lewis, who have characterized the Canadian
government's resolve as inadequate.  
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