Activists thousands deep
marched through the streets of Mexico City protesting discrimination
against people living with HIV on the eve of the first world AIDS
conference in Latin America, reports Agence France-Presse
The first International
March Against Stigma was an effort to demand the end of
discrimination against people living with HIV. Globally, AIDS
continues to hit hard at marginalized communities like gay men,
junkies, and sex workers. Only in a few countries, found mostly in
Africa, is AIDS a mainstream disease.
The event drew a colorful
crowd. One woman held up a sign that read in Spanish, “I Love My
Gay Son,” another, “If your son came out of the closet, do not
hide, come out as well.”
Some of the protesters
called for universal access to antiretroviral drugs. Mexico has the
2nd highest number of HIV infections in Latin America
after Brazil, according to figures by UNAIDS. Earlier this year,
pharmaceutical companies were criticized for pricing drugs in Mexico
beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.
Merck charges six times as much for Stocrin in Mexico as it does in
other Latin American and middle-income countries, a heartless
business calculation that effectively makes this drug all but out of
reach for nearly all those living with HIV/AIDS in Mexico,” said
Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles based AIDS Healthcare
Foundation, in a statement announcing a new print ad called 'Shame on
Merck'. The ads ran in several major U.S. newspapers in June.
Several discussions at the
conference are expected to address HIV stigma and discrimination.
One panel led by South African Justice Edwin Cameron is set to
discuss the criminalization of HIV-positive people.
Around the world, HIV stigma
– and outright homophobia – remain major obstacles for relief
workers. “Homophobia – in all its forms – is one of the top
barriers to ending this epidemic, worldwide. The fight against the
epidemic is entering a new phase, and if governments and NGOs and
international organizations like my own do not take up the fight for
gay rights, and the rights of all people with diverse sexuality, we
will not end AIDS,” said Peter Piot, a UNAIDS founding director.
The conference is set to
open with a 12-year-old HIV-positive Honduran girl – Keren Dunaway
Gonzalez. “When I speak to all these people, I'll ask them to
support the fight against this illness, to give us medicine because
it's expensive and to campaign more so children don't get infected,”
she told AFP.
UNAIDS estimates 33 million
people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Photo credit: Suzy Subways