U.S., Thai HIV/AIDS Advocates To Protest Opening of XV International AIDS Conference
More than 1,000 HIV/AIDS advocates and HIV-positive people in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday are planning to protest at the opening of the XV International AIDS Conference, to call for improved access to antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV, among other issues, Thailand's Nation reports. Nimit Tien-udom, director of Thailand's AIDS Access Foundation -- which is organizing the protest with U.S.-based Health GAP and the Thai Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS -- said that he wants the conference to "live up to its theme" of "Access for All," according to the Nation (Nantiya, Nation, 7/7). Demonstrators plan to protest "failures of government worldwide" to take sufficient steps to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Agence France-Presse reports. The advocates said that "government inactivity, ... political obstruction and free trade pacts" could worsen the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to Agence France-Presse. Health GAP Director Asia Russell said that the United States and other countries seem to be "backtracking" on funding pledges while the amount of money needed to effectively combat the disease is increasing, Agence France-Presse reports. She added that President Bush is requesting a reduction in AIDS funding from fiscal year 2004 to FY 2005, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 7/6). The House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in June by voice vote approved a $19.4 billion draft foreign aid spending bill for FY 2005, including $2.2 billion for global AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria programs. Although the approved funding -- most of which will go to AIDS programs -- meets Bush's request for FY 2005, the subcommittee allocated a larger portion of the money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria than Bush had requested. Bush's proposed FY 2005 budget, which is $1.9 billion more than the total amount the subcommittee approved, includes $2.8 billion for international HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria programs, including $1.45 billion for the State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which will administer the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and $200 million for the Global Fund (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/24).
Access for All?
Russell also said that the advocates were concerned about the high cost of registration for the conference, according to the Nation (Nation, 7/7). The early registration fee for the conference was $800 and standard registration was $900; however, after May 1 the fee rose to $1,000, which comes to $1,250 including Thai tax. Although the conference fees include access to all conference sessions and copies of related documents and reports, meals and accommodations are not included in the price (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/29). Russell said, "To tackle HIV/AIDS is partly about an exchange of information between scientists and infected people. But such a high price damages opportunities for an open exchange." Nimit said that the price of registration could provide a person living with HIV in Thailand with antiretroviral treatment for about three years, according to the Nation (Nation, 7/7). Kamol Upakaew of the Thai Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS said that although the conference theme of Access for All is an "admirable goal," it is not likely to happen, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 7/6). Russell said that in the two years since the 2002 International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, six million people have died from AIDS-related causes and another 10 million have tested HIV-positive, adding, "The lessons that the international community has been unwilling to learn in countries in Africa we appear to be poised to relive" elsewhere (Agence France-Presse, 7/6).
Webcasts and other coverage of the XV International AIDS Conference will be available online at kaisernetwork.org/aids2004. Kaisernetwork.org will serve as the conference's official webcaster.