The dust has settled on the most recent International AIDS Conference that took place July 22 – 27th in Washington DC. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition was there on the ground, taking part in the many sessions and events that took place at this bi-annual gathering. Holding the event in DC, ground-zero for the war on drugs, is what made this year’s conference so special and yet so disappointing at the same time.
In recent years, a strong argument has been made by the world’s leading HIV/AIDS scientists, physicians, and activists that global drug policies, directly responsible for one third of new HIV infections in the world, must be reviewed if efforts to slow or halt the epidemic are to be successful. The emergence of initiatives like the Vienna Declaration , organizations like International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy are testaments to the concern about the harms that global drug policies are causing world-wide.
What was most disappointing about the conference was the lack of focus on drug policy and its contribution to the global epidemic.
There was little in the official program that acknowledged that the criminalization of drugs and those who use them is a key driver of increased risk of HIV transmission. There was absolutely no mention of this issue in any of the opening ceremonies of the conference. On the other hand, in the Global Village (the community organized venue that takes place parallel to the conference but outside the main event) there were many events, actions, discussions, and panels that highlighted the importance of finding alternative drug policies that worked better to protect public health, reduce stigma and uphold the human rights of people who use drugs.
Canada’s Federal Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, was given a hostile reception by many of the Canadians in attendance over the federal government’s lack of support for harm reduction, cuts to HIV AIDS organizations and the denial of health care benefits for refugee claimants. The video of this action can be found here http://www.aidsactionnow.org/
CDPC created a live-blog for AIDS 2012 to follow the issues raised at the conference. Check it out for stories, videos and commentary on the relationship between drug policy and HIV/AIDS.
We also delivered a newspaper that flew off the stands at the CDPC booth in the Global Village. Thanks to the wonderful design team that helped us put it together. It was a real hit!