When Science and Passions Collide

Tamar Abrams is the Communications Director for Population Action International.

I spent time this morning with a grandmother who has been living with HIV/AIDS for more than 15 years. She expressed her frustration at the conference, saying, "I don't want to sit in crowded rooms listening to scientists and policy-makers talk about what can happen in 20 years. I want to know what will be available to me tomorrow."

Her frustration is shared by other People Living with AIDS (PLWAs) and boiled over in an afternoon press conference today. A panel that included Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Dr. Helene Gayle, co-host of the conference; and Gregg Gonsalves of the AIDS and Rights Alliance of South Africa was repeatedly punctuated by hoisted signs and chanting from PLWAs. Among the hand-made signs were ones reading, "We are Not Here to Celebrate AIDS" and "Gates is not the Voice of PLWAs."

Dr. Fauci attempted to defend U.S. policies, saying, "PEPFAR has been very transforming. What was promised is there." But an activist on the panel wearing an HIV-positive t-shirt was clearly angry. She said, "We are sick and tired of government denialism about preventing and treating HIV/AIDS." She also criticized U.S. policy for "promoting its commitment to drug companies."

The press conference ended with the activists marching out of the media centre, chanting, "Stop the Circus — People are Dying."

After several days of the media reporting only the views of "celebrities" such as the Gates' and President Clinton, it is refreshing to hear the voices of "real" people most affected by the issues we are discussing. On the other hand, real forward motion can occur only if there is more light than noise. Both reside here…in abundance.

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