Activists Crash AIDS Meeting, Protest for Better Access to Antiretrovirals

Activists Crash AIDS Meeting, Protest for Better Access to Antiretrovirals

August 2, 2022 0 By Jennifer Walker

MONTREAL — Hundreds of activists supporting expanded access of HIV drugs made their way through the convention center here, briefly taking over center stage at the International AIDS Conference.

The demonstrators, numbering 200 to 300, sang songs and chanted catchy phrases in support of the “U = U” campaign — undetectable equals untransmittable — meaning that there is no risk of sexual transmission of HIV when the person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load.

“It is unfair that people have to jump through all sorts of hoops to receive antiretroviral therapy that can keep them healthy and prevent the transmission of HIV,” global activist Karl Schmid of Melbourne, Australia, told MedPage Today.

“We have the science behind us,” he said. “We know that if a person has undetectable HIV in his or her blood — which is achievable with multiple different drug combinations that are available around the world — then the chance that he or she can transmit the virus to his or her partner is vanishingly small.”

“If everyone were treated, there would be no transmission of the virus, and eventually that would mean the end of the pandemic,” he noted, adding that government roadblocks, criminalization of sexual behavior, and societal stigmatization of HIV patients have stood in the way of an HIV-free world.

In contrast to previous years when protestors have ransacked exhibitors’ booths, usually those of pharmaceutical companies currently out-of-favor with the HIV/AIDS community, this year’s march was more joyous than destructive.

The activists began their march at the AIDS 2022 Global Village, then wound down the halls of the Palais des congrès de Montréal to the exhibition hall, where they marched through the hall before emerging into the main corridor, heading to the main conference room where Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was scheduled to address the attendees.

Fauci’s appearance was virtual, and the session “was late getting started,” so the demonstrators had the stage to themselves for about 5 minutes, which they used to make speeches. The group then sang their way out of the conference hall to the applause of the audience, and later gathered in Hall Viger, about 50 feet away for celebratory singing and dancing.

The demonstrators were eventually discretely escorted by staff and volunteers out of the conference.

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    Ed Susman is a freelance medical writer based in Fort Pierce, Florida, USA.