Tag Archives: International AIDS conference

MH17: HIV community mourns loss of pioneer researcher Joep Lange

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The international AIDS community is mourning the deaths of researchers whose plane was shot down over Ukraine and who were travelling to Melbourne for a global AIDS conference.

The former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange and his partner and ArtAids board member Jacqueline van Tongeren have been confirmed as having been on the flight, while there are reports of others including a World Health Organization spokesman, Glenn Thomas.

298 people – 283 passengers including three infants and 15 crew – were killed on the Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

Global leaders mourned

David Cooper, director of the Kirby Institute at UNSW Australia, was a friend of Joep Lange. He received a call at 3am telling him that Lange and his partner were on the flight.

Professor Cooper said his colleague of 30 years had “an absolute commitment to HIV treatment and care in Asia and Africa”.

“Joep was absolutely committed to the development of affordable HIV treatments, particularly combination therapies, for use in resource-poor countries,” Professor Cooper said.

Professor Lange was a professor of medicine and head of the Department of Global Health at the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam. He served as president of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004.

In his 30 years of researching HIV, he led pivotal trials of antiretroviral therapy and published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

“Another outstanding area of [Lange’s] contribution has been his pioneering role in exploring affordable and simple antiretroviral drug regimens for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in resource-poor settings,” Professor Cooper said.

“Both of these have been part of his dedication to increasing access to effective HIV treatment.  The joy in collaborating with Joep was that he would always bring a fresh view, a unique take on things, and he never accepted that something was impossible to achieve.”

More AIDS2014 delegates feared lost

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has told reporters this morning: “A number of people who were travelling to Malaysia for an international AIDS conference were also on board”.

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was due to connect with a flight to Perth, before people travelled onto Melbourne, Reuters and others have reported.

UNAIDS director Michael Sidibe, who is already in Melbourne for the week-long 20th International Aids Conference, tweeted: “Many passengers were enroute to #AIDS2014 here in #Melbourne.”

The conference organisers, the International AIDS Society, released a statement expressing “sincere sadness” at the news of the M17 disaster:

At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy.

Story via The Conversation

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Teenagers living with HIV show what life’s like in their shoes

Undefeated

A still from Undefeated

Next Sunday thousands of HIV activists, politicians and professionals will gather in Washington DC to assess the global state of the pandemic, advances in treatment and care, and assert their collective vision for the future.

That Aids 2012, the 19th international Aids conference, is being held in Washington is particularly resonant. Until Barack Obama overturned a 22-year-old ban in 2009, people living with HIV were denied entry to the US.

The prevalence of HIV in the city itself is also astonishing – not only is it the highest HIV rate in America, it is one of the highest in the world, rivalling areas of sub-Saharan Africa. While HIV is often associated with specific regions, the reality is that it is a global pandemic, with its profound impact felt globally, including in the UK.

In some areas of our country, especially London, HIV prevalence rates are higher than in countries more regularly associated with the epidemic such as Thailand, and UK rates continue to rise. Although medication to control the virus is readily accessible, one in four people living with HIV are not aware that they have the virus, and those who are often contend with poverty, social isolation and the impact of the stigma surrounding the condition – a stigma that is still active in workplaces, communities and schools.

A group of young people living with the condition from the London-based HIV charity Body & Soul are very aware of the impact of HIV and stigma. They will be taking their own brand of activism and a much-needed youth perspective to the conference.

Since 1996, Body & Soul has been a trailblazer in providing bespoke psychosocial support to children, teenagers and families living with HIV. We have built a community of members who inspire and support one another in a safe space. It’s a place where they can share hopes and anxieties as well as accessing diverse professional support, from counselling to CV workshops, legal advice, sex and relationships discussions and parenting forums.

Body & Soul’s expertise in working with young people living with HIV led to the development in 2011 of its campaign Life in my Shoes (Lims), which will be the focus of the group’s activities in Washington. It is a pioneering project that they hope will engender empathy among all young people (not just those personally affected by HIV), encouraging them to accept and embrace difference.

Lims is a sophisticated multiplatform campaign boasting a short film, photographs shot by Rankin and endorsements from the likes of Annie Lennox, Dr Christian Jessen and Blake Harrison of The Inbetweeners. When the educational resource central to the campaign is launched later this year, students will take part in classes that are engaging and informative.

Miles away from uncomfortable sex education lessons, these sessions will inspire young people to improve their knowledge of HIV while promoting increased understanding of life in one another’s shoes.

The centrepiece of Lims is Undefeateda 35-minute film charting a day in the shoes of a London schoolgirl, and drawing directly from experiences of members of Teen Spirit, Body & Soul’s group for 13-to-19-year-olds affected by HIV. Premiered in May at the Cannes film festival, it will be screened in Washington, allowing their message of empathy to reach beyond UK audiences.

The film shows the secrecy and courage demanded from such young people. For Peter, one of the Lims ambassadors attending the conference, this is why the campaign is so powerful and why it has the potential to inspire change.

“At school, I’d overhear people joking about catching Aids or worrying they’d get HIV from kissing,” he says. “I’d want to correct them but worried I’d be giving away my own status by doing so. For thousands of young people in the UK, we’ve already begun the process of changing minds and attitudes, and I can’t wait to start spreading the Lims message internationally.”

The conference theme of Aids 2012 is “Turning the tide together”. Peter and the others travelling to Washington hope to be at the forefront of a movement that seeks to transform attitudes and inspire change in the UK, and globally.

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Living With HIV: Travel Access Denied

As tourists around the world jet off on their annual summer breaks, people living with HIV have to think and plan extra carefully about their holiday destinations. Unknown to many, including those living with HIV, there are many countries around the world which have entry restrictions on HIV positive tourists.  There are also countries which may not have explicit entry restrictions but if you are already in a one of those paranoid countries and test HIV positive, you may be deported if the immigration service get to know about it.

An interesting video report from BBC World Service looks at whether there are still health risks attached to letting travellers with HIV in, or is it just intolerance?

Although it is very clear that travel restrictions based on HIV positive status alone, including HIV mandatory testing of international travelers, has been declared discriminatory according to International guidelines on HIV and Human Rights – some countries insist on keeping the restrictions firmly in place. While it is every country’s right to have their own criteria for entry, countries that have travel restrictions are supposed to give convincing reasons why they think they need to control travel for people living with HIV. With all the progress that we have made in HIV education, prevention and treatment there are no such persuasive reasons. At a time when HIV-related stigma and discrimination are some of the main challenges in the fight against HIV and AIDS, fighting HIV related travel restrictions should be prioritised. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance has made a start with its campaign.

In the last few years, a number of countries, including Namibia, China and most notably the US, have lifted travel bans related to HIV. They do have to be congratulated for coming to their senses, although I personally feel that it was duplicitous of them to have the restrictions in the first place. In the case of the US, the HIV related travel ban started in 1987 until January last year. During the time of the ban, if you turned up at any port of entry in the US and were found to be HIV positive (and had not declared so or had no special visa), you were deported right away. The US was also not able to host any International AIDS conferences as long as the HIV entry restrictions were in place. However, as part of the negotiations and or perhaps as a reward for lifting the restrictions, the US is now hosting the next International AIDS conference in Washington DC in July 2012.

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma from The Independent recalls from personal experience:

“I remember when I had to travel to the US for a UN meeting while the ban was still in place. I had to go to the US embassy and apply for a special waiver even though normally I would not need a visa. I was also supposed to declare my HIV status. As part of the interview for the waiver, I had to produce a letter from my doctor stating some really personal and intimate medical information, including the current results of my CD4 count, my viral load, and whether I was considered ‘fit to travel’. Anyone who has ever had call, schedule and to sit through an interview at the US embassy will know that it is a costly and an exasperating process, without the added burden of talking through a very personal and sensitive medical ailment.

At the port of entry in New York, I was asked why I had a special visa, when I really didn’t need a visa to begin with. I explained that I was required to have the special waiver by US law because I was HIV positive. I was immediately escorted to a secondary room for more questioning. Humiliation doesn’t even begin to describe this process. I am not aware of any other health issue that warrants this much scrutiny.

In the secondary room, there are all sorts of people who, for one reason or the other, the US immigration department feel they need more information from. I sat in this room for no less than three hours while some checks on my passport and paperwork were being done. If I’d had a connecting flight I would have missed it, and I know people who have. Once my name was called I was asked how long I was going to be in the US and what I was there for – questions which could easily be explained by all the paperwork I had already submitted. My passport was then stamped and I was told in no uncertain terms to be on my way. The criminal nature of the interrogation was completely unnecessary and demoralizing.

Since officially lifting of the ban in January 2010, I have been to the US on a few ocassions. I hoped that things would be different. Sadly, although I do not have to get a special visa anymore, the process at the point of entry in the US has stayed the same. Somebody must have forgotten to tell the law enforrcement officers in the US because they simply carry on like nothing has changed.”

It is very important to keep up the pressure on countries that continue impede the free travel of people living with HIV, and essentially treating us like criminals. We also need to remind countries like the US that if the HIV travel ban has been lifted, why does the degradation of HIV positive people by customs officers continues? Countries continuing to justify HIV related restrictions on tourists, students, migrants and employment of people living with HIV need to realise that their actions have wide-reaching negative implications related to human rights and the ability of the international community to get to grips with HIV epidemic.

Original Article by Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma at the Independent

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