CANADA POLITICS Visa denials condemned at Montreal AIDS conference, federal minister...

Visa denials condemned at Montreal AIDS conference, federal minister cancels speech

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The International AIDS Society will re-evaluate how it organizes international conferences as a result of the Canadian government’s visa denial, the organization’s president said Friday in Montreal.

The comments came after International Development Minister Harjit Sajan canceled a scheduled speech at the conference.

Adiba Kamarulzaman told the AIDS 2022 Opening Ceremony attendees that she was “deeply upset by the large number of visa denials and pending visas that have prevented many registered delegates, including IAS staff and management, from entering Canada.”

She said that the International AIDS Society, the association of HIV/AIDS specialists that organizes the conference, wants to ensure that the communities most affected by HIV participate in its conferences.

“We know that at the heart of the difficulties many AIDS 2022 attendees have had in entering Canada is the broader issue of global inequality and systemic racism that has a significant impact on global health,” she said. “HIV in particular has always disproportionately affected the most marginalized.”

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office says he was unable to attend the event due to “operational issues”. (Adrian Wilde/Canadian Press)

Other speakers strongly criticized Canada’s visa policy. Activist and writer Tim McCaskill told attendees that if countries like Canada are not in a position to allow “all stakeholders” to attend, “then we need to have this conference where we can.”

At one point during the opening ceremony, a group of protesters took the stage denouncing visa denials and inequities in the global response to HIV. “No more AIDS conferences in racist countries,” one woman said in a short speech.

Sajjan was scheduled to speak at the opening of the conference, but he canceled his speech and was not replaced by another representative of the Government of Canada.

Sajan’s office said “operational issues” prevented him from attending. “We remain staunch supporters of UNAIDS, the Global Fund and our trusted partners,” the minister’s spokeswoman, Hayley Hodgson, wrote in an email.
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Omar Sharif Jr., host of the opening ceremony, said Sajjan had notified organizers of the cancellation “recently”, prompting hoots from the crowd.

Two women and a man sit in front of a banner reading
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS (center), in her speech called for a world where people from the global south and their experiences are welcome in rich countries. (Ryan Remiors/Canadian Press)

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said she was “sad that there is no government of Canada.”

In her speech, she called for a more just world where everyone has access to quality health care and where people living with HIV do not face stigma, “including a world where people from the Global South are not denied entry to rich countries, to bring my experience,” she added.

The conference, which brings together researchers, practitioners, activists and people living with HIV, focuses on both scientific progress in the fight against AIDS and the need to increase funding for the HIV response.

Impact of COVID-19 on HIV response

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, has said that millions of lives are at risk due to disruptions in HIV care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced funding for the HIV response.

“With new infections on the rise in many regions and treatment access slowing down, how can it be right that funding is being cut?” Byanyima told reporters earlier on Friday.

One of the conclusions of the conference is that if treatment has rendered the viral load undetectable, the virus is no longer transmitted.

This applies to both sexual partners and HIV-positive pregnant women, who can pass the virus on to their children, says Maureen Murenga, director of the Lean on Me Foundation. Her Kenyan organization works with adolescent girls and young women living with HIV or TB.

“When I was diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago, I was given six months to live because there was no cure. pass HIV on to our partners,” she told reporters.

The conference will run until Tuesday and more than 9,000 delegates are expected to attend in person, with another 2,000 registered to attend remotely.

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