Sunday, August 13, 2006
Over twenty six thousand people from 170 countries attended this afternoon the 16th International AIDS conference at the Rogers Center. Among them were guests of honor with opening remarks. For instance Bill and Melinda Gates; co-chairman Dr Mark Wainberg; Governor of Canada, Haiti-born Michaëlle Jean; Toronto mayor David Miller; co-chairwoman of AIDS 2006, Dr Helene Gayle and the Executive Director for UNAIDS, Dr Peter Piot.
"We are dismayed that the prime minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper, is not here this evening," Dr Wainberg said, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd with signs that read "Sleep in Steve? HIV Never Sleeps!"
The prime minister is said to have turned down the invitation to open with a speech due to "previous commitments". Dr Wainberg also said that "...Mr. Harper, the role of prime minister includes the responsibility to show leadership on the world stage. Your absence sends a message that you do not regard HIV/AIDS as a critical priority and clearly all of us here tonight disagree with you!"
Bill Gates mentioned Microbicides which are products designed to help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs when applied either in the vagina or rectum. They can be developped in many forms, including gels, creams, sponges, etc. They are still being tested and are not available on the market as of yet. He also mentioned President Bush's promise to dedicate $15 billion in AIDS prevention, the mention of which the crowd booed in contempt. He explained how male circumcision has recently been scientifically proven to be effective in reducing the risk of contracting the virus. But also reminded the crowd that in some cultures women have no control over their spouses willingness to take those measures. Melinda Gates took a moment to raise awareness once again that stigma is one of the biggest obstacles to prevention and treatment. She gave the example of a hospital the couple visited in India where women and men are separated in a segragationist way, in which men have the best care from hospital staff and family members but right across the hall, the women's lives are wasting away. And finished her speech with a quote that prompted a standing ovation from the crowd. She said that "Saving lives is the HIGHEST ethical act!"
The week long conference will include speeches from actor and activist Richard Gere, former president Bill Clinton on Tuesday as well as NAACP chairman Julian Bond. There will be a vigil on Thursday and the closing on Friday. Click here for an in depth coverage of the ceremonies.