A CUPE delegation attended the 19th International AIDS Conference last week in Washington, D.C. Roger Procyk, a member of CUPE 2348 and CUPE’s National Aboriginal Council, shares his reflections.
On Monday, July 23, Hillary Clinton spoke to 20,000 plus conference delegates, voicing her support for women’s right to choose (referring to their health and bodies). She also spoke about of the potential of an AIDS -free generation where no babies are born with HIV, new infections decline due to treatment, and everyone diagnosed has access to education and treatment.
Later, I attended the official opening of the Global Village, a large display area full of information booths, activities, entertainment, film screenings, art works, photography and networking opportunities. I got to hear Medicine Horse - an all-nations drum group representing different tribes. They were good but they were no Red Bull, the Saskatchewan Cree drum group that has collaborated with Buffy Ste. Marie.
Money, they say makes the world go round. Some of the wealthiest companies in the world are here doing everything they can to retain their power and control over access to life-saving drugs. The exhibition hall is full of high tech displays by companies – especially big pharma – and countries promoting their products and programs.
The drug companies are busy lobbying to get favorable terms for themselves written in the CETA (Canada EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) as well Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Agreement.
These trade deals will give corporations the ability to sue countries for lost profits if those governments choose generic drugs over costly brand names. The TPP and CETA will also limit access to anti-retrovirals by extending patent protections for the more expensive drugs.
On Wednesday, the National Nurses United (NNU) organized a march calling for a Robin Hood tax – a tax on all speculative transactions by banks and traders who play the financial markets. It’s a wonderful idea with no one really suffering and plenty of money thereby directed into the fight for an AIDS-free Generation.
The nurses were joined by many thousands of conference delegates. Many marchers were protesting the criminalization of HIV by jurisdictions enacting laws to punish and restrict the rights of people living with the virus. The stigmatization of HIV-positive individuals - and people who survive by working in the sex trade - is a major theme at this conference.
In the evening I heard Canada’s Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, who was given an overly kind introduction by a Maori doctor from New Zealand. Canadian NGO AIDS Action Now distributed a summary of the Harper government’s dismal record, outlining the impact of public sector budget cuts to social services and scientific research on persons living with HIV/AIDS in indigenous communities in Canada.
In the session I learned that proper statistics for indigenous people aren’t available in the U.S. because of inconsistencies across the country in defining who is an Aboriginal person, and distinctions between American Indians and Alaskan Natives. We also heard from the Maori of Aoteora (New Zealand), the Aboriginals of Australia, a Chilean group and a woman representing indigenous peoples of Burma and Thailand.
Not surprisingly, most spoke of increased risk of HIV for their populations due to unemployment, poverty, under-education and coping methods such as substance abuse. National governments often treat them as folkloric tourist attractions but ignore them when it comes to targeted education and policy development.