Montreal AIDS Conference reports great progress despite visa issue

Montreal AIDS Conference reports great progress despite visa issue

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The Montreal organizer of the 24th International AIDS Conference says the event helped highlight the huge strides being made in HIV research and treatment technologies.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, local president of the international conference, believes that the biggest breakthrough of this 24th edition will have been the research showing that a single injection of a long-acting antiretroviral drug can prevent people from contracting the HIV infection for two months. instead of taking pills every day. Other research presented during the five-day conference, which ended Tuesday, shows that a cure for HIV is possible and that progress has been made, although it takes time, Mr. Routy stressed. “The advances in knowledge are enormous,” he said in an interview Tuesday. They haven’t taken to treatment today, but we’re getting close. »

As the event drew to a close, speakers often touched on visa problems and refusals to enter Canada that prevented hundreds of delegates from attending the Montreal conference, including employees of the International AIDS Society, the body that brings together the world’s AIDS experts and organizes the conference. Professor Routy said that he was “disappointed” with the Government of Canada, but he was still happy that people from 172 countries were present at the event. Most of the participants came from developing countries. But Tinashe Rufurwadzo, Director of Programs, Management and Governance at “Y+ Global”, an international organization for HIV-positive youth, offers a bittersweet assessment of this “AIDS 2022” conference.

He admits that attendees were able to have encounters that would not otherwise have been possible, such as with government officials and pharmaceutical executives. But he regrets that many voices have not been heard due to visa problems. More than 9,000 people were expected to attend in person and another 2,000 registered to participate online. Those who were there were able to meet with government officials and pharmaceutical company executives, contacts that are otherwise almost impossible for young activists. The only place we can join them is here, when we have coffee after the sessions. This is where people are easily accessible,” observes Mr. Rufurwadzo.

As for online participants, although the event was held in a hybrid format, access was not easy for everyone. Mr. Rufurwadzo points out that the prohibitive cost of data in several African countries does not allow all to fully participate in the exchanges.

Moving Canada

Jean-Pierre Routy would also like to mention that the conference made it possible to put pressure on Canada to get things moving. On Monday, the federal government announced a $17.9 million commitment to improve access to HIV self-testing in remote areas and among hard-to-reach communities. “This money is welcome and goes directly to the weaknesses in our system. It is a great effort from Canada, even if it is a little late, Mr. Routy commented. What matters is that things change and that this conference leads to changes in mentality. Approximately half of the amount pledged by Ottawa will be dedicated to the distribution of self-tests. Since people who know their infection status can access treatments to protect themselves and prevent transmission of the virus to their partners, this is a step in the right direction.

Others who work with people living with HIV wonder how test kits will be distributed. They are also concerned about the support that will be offered to people who test positive. The emotional toll of such news can be particularly heavy to bear. They also hope that HIV testing will become standard practice. Many fear that parents will show the door to young people if they discover that they have self-diagnostic equipment in their possession. Protesters present at Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’ closing speech also criticized the lack of funding for follow-up care.

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