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Durban Observations
Commentaries from AIDS 2000 Conference reporters
Europe Lobbies Parliamentary Assembly on Lesbian and Gay Issues

Off the record - Are we really breaking the silence?

Although this conference should be applauded for its programme, which goes way beyond the traditional scientific one, there is some corridor talk that not enough is being done and said to really break the silence around HIV/AIDS.

For the silence to be brokenyou need a lot of noise, and except for the occasional ACT-UP gatherings showing up when Gro Harlem-Brundlandt (of the World Health Organization) is delivering her speech, not much noise is being made.

Why don't people listen to People Living with AIDS?  When the session is on 'Living with AIDS' people only talk about treatment.  Where is the real dialogue taking place between PWAs and scientists?

At yesterday's plenary meeting with Dr. Ho, a PWA turned around to me to say he didn't understand a word of what was being said.  There is a general feeling that it's academics talking to academics.

There is exclusion and inadequaterepresentation in the sessions:  where are the young peer educatorswhen they talk about peer educator programmes?  Where are the PWAswhen you talk about Living with AIDS?  And where are the Black Africans?

There is a general feelingthat there are too many Americans taking centre stage.  Although itis a global conference, people expected more focus on sub-Saharan Africa. People who are affected most by this epidemic should be put on center stageand speak loudly on the issues that address them. Europe Lobbies Parliamentary Assembly on Lesbian and Gay Issues

Corridor Talk

So many corridors, which never cross.  Corridors of interests and corridors of hope.  People talking about access to HIV/AIDS drug treatment from different perspectives.

Activists are hungering in strikes and demonstrating.  Leaders are asking "Who can prove that HIV existsat all?"

Activists are crossing the corridors of [the conference building] with slogans demanding, "Access to HIV drugs, reduce the prices, give the generic producers a chance to be in the big competition."

"Does anyone from the business world care at all about the people living with HIV/AIDS?" said to me one young man from Brasilia.  "They just want to monopolize the development of new and better drugs; they want to stop the production of generic products, to have the market for their own already-produced expensive drugs."

"Nonsense," was the quick answer of a tall thin man during the media presentation of the Global Business strategy and the announcement that some of the big pharmaceutical companies will reduce the prices of the drugs for Africa.

Corridor of big promises

"Why did Merck give this money to Botswana?  Maybe with an idea that Botswana will buy with this money the products of Merck," a reporter from Spain questioned the big companies' announcement of the new drug initiative.

A journalist form South Africa struggled with the European Commission presentation of the new European initiative to fight HIV/AIDS.

"Why don't you put in the national list of drugs something significant for the treatment of AIDS?  In so many countries there is not even antiretroviral treatment, and in some others, the only treatment for prevention of mother-to-child transmission is AZT, even if it doesn't work, or has side effects," they asked.

"Do they really mean money - backingall these international initiatives - or just [that] meetings [are] anotherconcern of different people attending the conference?"

Corridors of delicate hope

A young man told me that a friend of his received AZT, and he is frightened of the side effects.

Corridor of illusions

I have been walking on such a high since I've been here in the same forum, with such a powerful presence of scientific and international organizations, doctors, researchers from around the world.

I saw a man wearing a sign on his shirt that said "Aspirin fights HIV."

"Is it a joke?" I asked.  "What?  No, it is not a joke.  It is true" was the answer.

Then I saw a woman, an African woman, laughing and joyful with the same sign.

"If Aspirin fights HIV, why are there so many scientists, and so many politicians, why so many people dying?" I asked.  "They do not take Aspirin," the lady said.

I am shocked by the gap between the Western Europeans or the Americans who calmly take their pills in the corridor of the City Hall at the Community Indaba party, and all these people with the 'Aspirin hope' on their T-shirts.