Tagged with International AIDS Conference

It’s not true, is it?

HIV-positive shirt

The International AIDS Conference is starting in Melbourne in a few days. I’m in a convenience store , wearing this T-shirt that says ‘HIV Positive’. There’s music playing, in a language I don’t understand.

“I like the music,” I tell the clerk.

“You probably can’t understand what she’s saying. It’s in Persian – Farsi.”

I hand over my purchases.

“It’s not true, is it?” he says, pointing to my T-shirt as I pay.

“Yes, it is true.” He makes a screwed-up smile, unsure whether I’m pulling his leg. A moment of silence. “Really?”

I tell him about the AIDS conference, and something about the importance of positive people being visible. Another moment of silence.

“You know, when I tell people I’m from Iran, they make assumptions about me, too. It’s good to meet you, my friend.” He shakes my hand and I leave.

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A blunt instrument

The following article about HIV criminalisation, by David Mejia Canales and me, was originally published on the Law Institute of Victoria Young Lawyers’ Blog last week. (Yes I have been published on a ‘young lawyers’ blog – I am aware that is amusing on several levels). 


The International AIDS Conference will be held in Melbourne in July. The conference, one of the largest in the world, attracts tens of thousands of activists, politicians, scientists, doctors and a diverse group of community members affected by HIV.

With the world’s eyes on Melbourne during the conference, it’s timely that we revisit our criminal laws with regards to HIV transmission.

Did you know that s 19A of the Victorian Crimes Act is the only law in any Australian jurisdiction that specifically criminalises the transmission of HIV?  The maximum penalty under the section is 25 years’ imprisonment – equivalent to armed robbery or aggravated crimes of violence.

Section 19A was introduced in 1993 to placate community fears of robberies with HIV-infected blood-filled syringes, but no HIV-positive person has ever been convicted of such a crime. Instead, the law has only ever been used for allegations of sexual transmission.

So is s 19A a good law? It’s only produced one conviction in 20 years (and this was for attempt); it was intended to be used to punish robbers armed with HIV laden syringes but has only been used to lay charges against people who have allegedly transmitted HIV through sex.

This is not to say that intentional transmission of a serious disease like HIV should not be a crime – there’s no doubt it should. But other sections of the Crimes Act are capable of being used should such a scenario occur. Not only that, we have public health processes that can be triggered when HIV transmission occurs, and which are focused on achieving positive behaviour change rather than punishing past wrongs.

In theory, s 19A was intended to protect the public, but what happens in practice is it acts as a disincentive to knowing your HIV status while reinforcing perceptions that people living with HIV are dangerous or malicious. This does no one any good.

Laws don’t exist in a vacuum.  You probably didn’t learn about s 19A at law school, and you definitely didn’t learn about the incredible social baggage a discussion about HIV and transmission brings.

Here are four things you can do today to know more about the fascinating junction of law, human rights and HIV:

  • Register for Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation, an International AIDS Conference affiliated event about the criminalisation of HIV, not just in Victoria but around the world. The event is free to attend but you must register. Keynote speaker: Hon Michael Kirby. Registrations here: http://beyondblame.eventbrite.com.au
  • Contact organisations like Living Positive Victoria or the Victorian AIDS Council, they can organise speakers or information sessions for you or your organisation to understand HIV and the human rights issues surrounding it. www.vicaids.asn.au and www.livingpositivevictoria.org.au
  • Take part in the hundreds of events during the International AIDS Conference, for more details: www.aids2014.org
  • Consider volunteering or donating to the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, a community legal centre assisting HIV positive Victorians. For details: http://www.vac.org.au/plc-legal-assistance

What do you think? Is it possible to have a constructive discussion about HIV and decriminalisation of HIV without the fear and hysteria that usually comes with discussions about HIV?

About the authors: David Mejia-Canales is a lawyer and Vice President of the Victorian AIDS Council. Paul Kidd is an HIV activist, current law student at La Trobe University and the Chair of the HIV Legal Working Group at Living Positive Victoria.

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Time to go home


The International AIDS Conference is drawing to a close and with it, so is my long overseas journey. Tomorrow I’m off to London, then Singapore, then Melbourne and home. I’m ready.

The conference has been amazing – there is much good work being done out there and I’ve found plenty to be inspired by, challenged by, and occasionally angered by. I’ve met some fantastic people, including this guy, this guy, this guy and lots of others who aren’t so easily linked to. Plus I’ve renewed a lot of friendships built up over previous conferences and events.

The two “big deals” out of this meeting for me are the microbicides breakthrough (of course) and the focus on criminalisation of HIV transmission/exposure, and the complex legal, ethical and public health challenges associated with that. I’ll be writing about those two for an upcoming issue of Positive Living.

As the meeting winds up, it would be easy to be dismissive of the prospects for anything to really change in the course of the HIV epidemic – to judge the event as long on talk and short on action – but I’ll suppress my usual cynicism and say that I do think these events make a difference, if only to remind those of us working in the field of how much remains to be done and how comprehensively the leaders of the world have failed to take decisive and meaningful action to save people’s lives.

We are making progress. We have new prevention technologies coming on line – the successful CAPRISA microbicide trial will be a milestone in the history of the HIV epidemic, and there is every reason to expect that research into pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treatment-as-prevention will give us new prevention tools and the hope of a prevention paradigm that goes beyond the “just use condoms” message that I have argued is unsustainable in the long term.

Unfortunately, not a lot of this is getting through to the people who have the power to make decisions, and so often we see public policy driven by prejudice, fear and moralisation rather than evidence of what works. As Gill Greer, Director-General of IPPF, said in a session the other day, “when morality gets in the way of policy, the result is too often morbidity and mortality.”

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March for Human Rights at AIDS 2010


One of the perennial set-piece events for the International AIDS Conference is the big, colourful march through the centre of the host city demanding universal access/equal rights/new drugs/whatever the focus is on this time round. Last night’s event, marching through Vienna to Heroes’ Square, was no disappointment.

Many thousands of activists, advocates and people living with HIV made a loud, brash and joyous sight as they moved through the city. For me it’s the one moment of jubilation in a long week of scientific data and depressing news about the march of HIV in the developing world. This year we had extra cause to celebrate – the fantastic news this week about the success of a vaginal microbicide trial – and we made the most of that while working to highlight human rights issues. Will (above) decided he’d stand up for the human rights of African men’s foreskins.

Lots more photos on Flickr.

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How to get your press release noticed

If you sit in the media centre at the International AIDS Conference, you are subjected to an unrelenting stream of people coming by and placing a press release or media advisory in front of you, while timidly whispering, “Press conference at 1pm on bal bla bla.” It happens on average avery 5–10 minutes and consequently most of the journos ignore them.

The MOSOTOS people have a better approach.



Sex workers protest at AIDS 2010

A noisy, colourful protest today at the International AIDS Conference by sex worker activists highlighting the impacts of US government policies and those of the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief on sex workers in Africa.

From Research for Sex Work, Issue 10 (July 2008):

US funding restrictions applied to anti-trafficking and HIV- prevention monies have cowed many service providers and implementing agencies. Furthermore, the requirement that one-third of US HIV-prevention funding be spent on abstinence programming has directed funding toward faith- based organisations (FBOs), most of which have little if any experience with HIV-prevention, and away from evidence- based, proven-effective HIV-prevention. Sex workers are hard hit by these restrictions, and the effects hurt not just sex workers but everyone in their communities. Sex workers had mixed feelings about the reauthorization of PEPFAR because of these restrictions. While PEPFAR offers life-saving medicines to many who would not otherwise receive it, the PEPFAR reauthorization bill included, at time of going to press, restrictions that prevent sex workers from receiving services. These restrictions promote discrimination against sex workers.

I love the way these guys stand up for themselves.

For more information about the organisers of this action and the issues behind it, visit the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.

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The best conference handout in a long time is the faux “Conference Newsletter” produced by TB activists under the name MOSOTOS (More Of the Same Old Talk, Opinions and Speeches). Clever use of humour and satire to highlight an important issue. Below, and over the fold, are some samples. A PDF version of the whole magazine is available – check it out.

Continue reading


Bill Gates and the Robin Hood Tax


Bill Gates, in a speech this afternoon to the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, speaking about the slow roll-out of HIV prevention and treatment efforts:

Two decades ago, the skeptics said: “We can’t make drugs to treat a virus.” But you persisted – and now they can. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs, but we can’t make them cheap enough.” But you kept pushing – and now they do. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs cheaply, but we don’t know whether people will stick to the regimen.” But you insisted – and now they know.

Gates gave a presser immediately after the speech, in which he was asked a question about the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny 0.05% tax on currency transactions that would raise at least $700 billion a year to help fund HIV treatments and prevention.

I don’t think that would work – I’ve heard a number of experts from the financial sector say they don’t think that would work. So no, I’m not in favour of the Robin Hood Tax. [1]

Aren’t those the same arguments he just criticised a few minutes before? Is he blind, hypocritical or just dumb?

Note 1. Not a direct quote, but an accurate representation of what Gates said. Sorry I didn’t get it down verbatim.

Photo above: Bill Gates © Paul Kidd 2010 – CC-BY-NC-SA license.

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Having spent the last six weeks gallivanting around Europe and the Middle East, you’d think I’d have become used to culture shock by now. Arriving in strange countries where you don’t speak the language and have no local currency, crossing international borders in the middle of the night – yes that’s all part of the rich tapestry of travel. But on Saturday morning I found myself in the first (pre-conference) session of the International AIDS Conference – after six weeks of holidays that was quite a culture shock in itself.

“Oh yes, AIDS,” I thought to myself. “Where were we?”

It hasn’t taken long for the old instincts to kick back in and I’m working my arse off getting to sessions, meeting people and talking, thinking, living, sleeping, eating and drinking nothing but HIV for the whole week. Vienna is nice enough although it wouldn’t have been on my list of cities to visit had it not been for this conference.

I have a nice apartment in Kuttenbrückegasse which, to my surprise, is conveniently located directly across the road from Vienna’s most popular gay sex club. Naturally I have not ventured in there, being the paragon of moral rectitude I am, but the front entrance is visible from my apartment window and I have set up an infra-red video monitoring system so I can blackmail all the AIDS Conference delegates that I catch going in and out. Please have your chequebooks ready when I call as I have a big holiday to pay off.

Things are moving swiftly here and it looks like there could be some exciting news on microbicides tomorrow. I really enjoy these events and get really energised about my work, but they run from dawn to dusk every day and there is little let-up, so they are exhausting. There are some photos in this Flickr set and that will be added to over the week. Plus I’m doing some posts for napwa.org.au if you want the serious take on what’s happening.