Dozens of sex worker and drug user activists interrupted the opening press conference of AIDS 2012 in Washington DC yesterday. They emerged from their seats unexpectedly and marched through the room, waving banners and shouting slogans, such as, "No drug users? No sex workers? No International AIDS Conference!” The activists were protesting against the attitude of conference organizers, who had praised the US government for lifting the travel ban on people living with HIV – but failed to address the remaining travel restrictions on people who use drugs and sex workers, who could not attend the conference if they declared their status (See the article of Alexandra Volgina!).
Please watch the video messages of people who use drugs - the interviews were filmed at the Kiev AIDS Hub!
Comparing to AIDS 2010 in Vienna, where several speakers addressed issues like the lack of harm reduction services or the criminalization of drug users (watch the speech of Anya Sarang for example!), the silence in Washington was staggering. Despite the fact that the International AIDS Society contributed to organize two hubs for drug users and sex workers, one in Kiev and the other one in Kolkata, the video messages of activists recorded at these meetings were not screened and speakers of the opening plenary rarely mentioned issues related to these most at risk populations. A welcome exception was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who introduced a bill to lift the remaining travel bans. Less than a month after the Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report on how the global war against drugs fuels the HIV epidemic, nobody, at the opening, named and shamed the US government for being the world’s largest incarcerator, or Russia for banning opiate substitution treatment. The question remains: Is the "AIDS-free generation" more than an empty slogan without addressing failed prohibitionist policies on sex work and drug use?
Posted by Peter Sarosi