This Summer: Kim at the 15th International AIDS Conference

Hey CGJ—

I just got back from a week in Bangkok at the International AIDS Conference, where I was one of 15,000 peons. This e-mail will be sort of long, so sit back and enjoy it! My thoughts overall from Bangkok are varied—I got alternately sick of old white men's rhetoric but also of some of the activists I encountered there. Overall, I learned a lot, from both actions and sessions. I have lots of great ideas for the fall. Please email me or call me this summer and we can get started! I also brought back scads of literature and stickers and stuff, so also let me know if you're interested in reading about... “HIV/AIDS prevention among migrant fishermen in Thailand and Cambodia” or anything else. These are just some highlights of some sessions that I attended and some protests that I participated in:

Session: Why HIV/AIDS education in the classroom isn't working. Interesting title, right? The lecture was on a study that found that comprehensive sexual education did not significantly increase safer sex. Everyone who was in the session was in education, mainly, and they defended most of their practices, particularly this woman who was in the Ministry of Education in India. The main issue in this session was that although the framework of a comprehensive sexual education may be in place in the school systems, it does not necessarily translate into positive action on the part of students. Other factors considered were: ability to freely ask questions, ability to access condoms, etc. Also, a lot of the older people worried about how the parents would deal with this sexual education, blah blah. (I also have more notes on all these sessions if you are interested in the specific presenter and more of what was discussed).

Session: The Global Fund: an effective financing mechanism? Richard Feachem, the executive director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria was there to discuss on a panel the different ways that the global fund operates. Since the global fund is a unique, country-level financing mechanism that draws together government, non-government organizations, civil society, and religious groups, there was a person who had represented India in their “country coordinating mechanism” from a group of Indian PWAs. The gist of this meeting was: The Global Fund has no money, and will not be able to conduct a round 5 of grants. But, the Global Fund has been very vocal and straightforward about where it is disbursing money within a country, as well as about accountability.

During Nelson Mandela's Speech: “To loud applause, Feachem vowed that the Global Fund would launch Round Five and raise $3.5 billion in 2005. ‘We will turn the tide,’ he said.” I missed the Fund the Fund meeting, but the website is: Check it out.

An interesting question for us as activists came up during planning meeting on Monday night. Combination of Thai, American, and French activists, as well as a few other countries. There was an action against the G8 where they all were implicated in not funding the Global Fund. Activists threw fake blood on their giant pictures and gave long winded speeches about why they were AIDS accomplices. But, during that action, or afterwards, I should say, one woman not affiliated with the protest (some doctor?) spilled and broke her arm. Now, the debate was: the Thai people had brought it up to think about maybe sending a card or visiting her. The French were like, no, it's not our responsibility to clean up, she should look where she is walking, etc. But, it does bring to bear a lot of important issues, especially considering the question: who is really cleaning up after you? Not the people you throw the fake blood at. Minimum or underpaid cleaning ladies. That was just my take on it all, but I'm interested to hear what you have to say. Should we clean up our own actions?

Action: Morning action against the session on Patents and equal access with Dr. Harvey Bale, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA). Got up at 7 AM to stuff twenty body bags (black garbage bags with newspaper stuffed inside). Then had to make signs, since none were made. These included “Patients rights, not patent rights” and “Generic drugs now” and “Pharma's greed kills” etc. The Thai people had already made signs against the FTA that the US wants to negotiate with Thailand that would effectively force Thai to buy pharma's (and not generic) drugs. So, we got together about 40 or 50 activists. We carried the body bags and the signs, in both Thai and English, across the entire length of the convention hall and to where Harvey Bale was and forced the panel to allow one of the Thai activists from the Thai Drug Users Network to speak about the FTA and its consequences on the people on the ground. Success!

Action: Small action with ten commercial sex workers from Cambodia & 10 activists from the US/ACTUP paris against Gilead. Tenofavir study does not encourage the use of condoms among the high risk group of commercial sex workers in Cambodia. So for those on the placebo...

We chanted and got up during a Gilead presentation and held up signs like “Tenofavir makes me sick” and “Gilead prefers us positive”...

Session: Abstinence is coming your way with Barbara Lee, rep from California, and Population Services International. I missed most of the talk, but during the skills building, the discussion was about how no one understood what the title was ... but the gist of it is, is that since abstinence programs are not proving their efficacy in the US, they are being “exported” to other nations. There is a very media friendly one now in the UK called the “silver ring” wherein people make this weird pledge and wear a silver ring until they get married. Very interesting conversation because many of the people come from backgrounds in Africa that are always religious... and they were not as liberal as many of us were, concerning abstinence. The gist of what we concluded is that there must be a wide variety of options available to people for comprehensive sexual education and STI/HIV prevention. I have more notes on this if anyone is interested.

I missed the actions again Randall Tobias, head of the shameful, shoddy PEPFAR plan, as well as the trashing of the Bristol Meyers Squibb, Pfizer (“Pfraud”), Roche, and Gilead booths in the commercial exhibition center.

Action: Marched with TDN (Thai Drug users Network) to the UN booth to proclaim their lack of harm reduction policies. I handed out clean needles, people carried body bags, etc. UN was very receptive to us, gave speeches supporting our right to be there and our opinions. Also talked about how they are going to implement more harm reduction policies...

Nelson Mandela Foundation: Slept through the 46664 campaign movie. 46664 was Nelson Mandela's number in prison and now is the number used to commemorate his imprisonment. The 46664 campaign is meant to fight HIV/AIDS, raise awareness and money, etc. The movie was about Bono and all these rock stars doing a concert about raising awareness, etc. Then Dr. Helene Gayle of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (and incoming International AIDS Society president) announced that because the Global Fund will not be able to do a round five, the BMGF will donate an additional 50 million dollars to them. Then, Nelson Mandela, the cutest man in the world, came on stage and talked about the importance of donating to the Global Fund, etc.

Session: Women leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Panel: Graca Michel (Nelson Mandela's wife), Mary Robinson, and many others. I took detailed notes in this session about how women do and can lead more effectively. How women can motivate other women. The roles of women with HIV/AIDS.

Great plenary speech by Jim Kim: Once again, Jim Kim, WHO 3x5 director, (another cute man, but not nearly so old as NM) thanks the activists for their crucial part in motivating bureaucracy.

Session: Meet the leaders with Mary Robinson, Richard Gere, Graca Michel, and Millie Katana. Left this session b/c Richard Gere is a flaky neo-Buddhist and I didn't want to listen to him anymore.