It Took 22 Years And We Still Haven’t Gotten It Right.
The theme of the first International AIDS Conference in the United States in 22 years is “Turning the Tide Together”, which is somewhat fitting–23,000 delegates from 195 countries have gathered in our nations capitol to “begin the march towards the end of the AIDS epidemic”. Leading scientists, policymakers and advocates are making this march noticeably without many foreign sex-worker and drug-use activists; a group arguably the most affected and least engaged in fight against HIV/AIDS. Even though President Obama lifted the HIV travel ban in 2009, many are still denied access into the US due to the Immigration and Nationality Act: 212; which denies people because of “moral turpitude” (i.e. sex work) or because they are “determined to be a drug abuser or addict”.
I’ve attended two high-profile sessions at the conference; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech and a Congressional panel featuring Rep. Lee (D-CA), Sen. Coons (D-DE), Sen. Enzi (R-WY), Sen. Rubio (R-FL) that was moderated by Sen. Frist (R-TN), that had large, boisterous protest over the continued ban. “I’m used to this being majority leader,” said Sen. Frist, who served two-terms as Speaker and is a physician–visible perturbed by the nearly 5 minute protest.
Luckily, the problem hasn’t been swept under the rug. The conference has recognized that men who have sex with men, transgender people, injecting drug users and sex workers are still very vulnerable to the epidemic and the infection rates in these communities continues to grow.
“If we are to take advantage of the huge possibilities that the science is now affording us in tackling the epidemic, we urgently need the most vulnerable populations at the table, but at the same time we need governments to be brought to account for policies that are criminalizing sexual preference and people´s behaviors rather than dealing with these issue as public health concerns;” said Dr. Elly Katabira, AIDS 2012 International Chair and President of the International AIDS Society.