AIDS festival marred by protest
The 22nd International AIDS festival ended yesterday with a resounding closing speech by former American President, Bill Clinton, who called on activists, policymakers and politicians not to be deterred with the fight ahead. This is in the midst of budget cutbacks and reduced commitments from donors and where statistics is showing the disease is making a comeback.
"It is important not to let anybody suggest that we should relax. There are more than 15 million people still living with HIV who are not on treatment,” he said, as protestors rally in front of him in favor of decriminalization of sex trade and drug use in the United States. "We need to test more, treat more, deploy more prevention strategies—and scale up what we know is working,” he added.
The HIV conference, held every two years, had more than 18,000 delegates attend this year with the timely theme of – “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges”. It had a slew of speakers, including WHO’s Tedros Adhanom (PhD), UNAIDS head Michelle Sidebe and celebrities such as Sir. Elton John. The later announcing a new initiative worth more than 1 billion USD in Russia and its surrounding nations and called on politicians as well as black celebrities to help curb the disease in vulnerable communities.
Through his Elton John Aids Foundation, he said, he intended to “work with populations who are cast aside by society,” in the ex-Soviet Union Region and help motivate and fund grassroots initiatives from the grounds up.
It was a frosty reception for the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe having his keynote speech at the opening of the conference interrupted several times by African women activists who called on him to resign and drowned his cries for women empowerment within society.
"Our sisters have called upon us to come together to support the #MeToo movement," he said in whisper as his voice was drowned in a loud protest against his leadership. "I am leading a social transformation that is dismantling a male-dominated culture. Oppression and power imbalances must be reversed and women and girls - in all their diversity - must be empowered,” he said.
The Executive Director has been on fire in connection to an alleged attempt to cover up accusations of sexual abuse by a senior staff member involving his former deputy, Luis Loures (MD), at the headquarters of UNAIDS in Geneva. Throughout the five day conference, he was forced to cancel a number of public appearances, as picketers followed him, demanding his immediate firing or resignation, including having hundreds of people show up at the office of WHO, to help address their grievances against the head of the United Nation institution fighting the epidemic in the world .
WHO’s Tedros warned the dwindling funding associated with AIDS in the world and reflected on the 37 million people that are still affected by it and the majority who lack basic healthcare.
“Too many people don’t get care,” he said. “We need universal health coverage to include HIV prevention, diagnosis and treatment and we might fight discrimination,” he declared. “The current situation is unacceptable”.
In Ethiopia, it is estimated that there are deaths of almost 20,000 people, annually, linked to the disease and 247, 250 children becoming orphaned, according to the Ethiopian HIV/AIDS prevention and Control Office (FHAPCO).
The 23rd International AIDS conference is to be held in San Francisco, in the United States in 2020.
In related news, Tedros Adhanom conferred with The Reporter on how happy he is about the recently achieved peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. "I commend both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments on what has taken place between both," he said. "Peace means better health and (better) development".