One of the oddest stories to emerge from the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok is that James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute found – to his considerable shock – that the American delegation booth didn’t have a photo of George W. Bush displayed. It seems to have been the last straw. In a fine old spray of invective James derided conference attendees as a bunch of American-hating morons and ingrates. “A sicko conference” he shouts, presumably without irony.
I sort of understand. International AIDS Conferences do tend to be a bit long on rhetoric and short on action. As one observer mused yesterday, ” “For some, attending AIDS conferences is a matter of advancing careers, profiteering, gaining political advantage and fulfilling professional obligations” What category attendee Glassman might fit is anybody’s guess.
It was also a bit odd to have Nelson Mandela there pointing to the lack of attention being given to TB. It’s a bit like appearing at a diabetes conference to point to a dearth of light being shed upon multiple sclerosis. He’s a revered figure and rightly so – and TB is a major opportunistic infection in people with AIDS in South Africa – but the appalling AIDS response inertia on the part of the South African government is a major factor in the TB prevalence rate. And Mbeki continues to drag his feet. The much delayed roll-out of treatment continues to be delayed and the South African government has just announced that it will cease providing a highly effective drug used to block vertical transmission in pregnant mothers. Despite it costing them nothing and despite world medical opinion being totally opposed to the cessation. On a brighter note, the link also offers the heart-warming tale of a conference-attending elephant falsely accused of killing someone. It turns out to have been a completely different elephant who objected to a drunken guy pulling hairs out of it’s tail. On the downside, the guy wasn’t James Glassman.
Nor was it Alexander Downer who popped up to belatedly pledge more money for tackling AIDS in the Asia/Pacific reason. He was he said “passionate” about so doing. I on the other hand am pretty passionate about his colleague Tony Abbott’s decision to purge his ministerial advisory committee on HIV of anyone living with HIV – for the first time since Neal Blewett commenced the National Strategy approach to HIV back in the 1980’s. He did however find a space for Mrs Angela Assaf who is married to Mr Joseph Assaf and also for Nick Hobson who knows about helicopters. A ministerial staffer, when quizzed about the dearth of affected community representation, offered the view that “being gay wasn’t part of the selection criteria.” There’s never a bloody elephant handy when you need one.