The AIDS Conference opened with a bang on Monday: An activist take-over of a symposium hosted by a pharmaceutical company (which decided to stop distributing HIV drugs to kids) and a speech by Bill Clinton where I suppose he said some quotable things. On Sunday night the gala opening happened at the majestic Auditorio Nacional, with speeches by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. And a 13-year-old girl from Honduras, Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez, who is living with HIV. “We want to be artists, teachers, doctors — even get married and have kids,” Keren said. “But achieving these goals will only be possible when we receive the attention we need, when we are guaranteed the medicines that we need, when we are accepted in schools.”
AIDS has been ravaging the world for a quarter-century now, and with precious drugs not available to all and no concrete cure in sight, a brighter future for young people like Keren is as dubious as ever. Keep in mind almost half of new infections annually occur among people ages 15-24. In Latin America, this being the AIDS Conference's first stop in the region, 63,000 people died of AIDS last year. In Mexico City alone, 21,000 people live with the HIV virus.
I know important people are giving speeches and new research will be presented, but really, what are we supposed to be doing at this conference exactly? You know, after eight years of disastrous Bush administration AIDS policies inflicted upon the globe?
I'm not 100-percent sure, and most people I've asked sorta shrug and say, 'Pat each other on the back … Talk about things … Make contacts for places you might want to visit …' and, yes, 'Hook up and have sex.' Not kidding. (Free condoms in the press room!)
I'm finding AIDS in a lot of ways is about big (lethal) money, about giving people jobs and reasons to travel, and about generating a big social scene, perhaps out of necessity. Accordingly, everything at the conference is real sparkly, shiny, and hyper-international. There is a “Global Village,” poster displays, and people from all over the world walking around smiling, some wearing traditional dress from their regions — East Asia, the Asian Subcontinent, Africa, Europe, Latin America.
Which is cool and all. But aren't things extremely, depressingly critical right now? Twenty two million people with AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa? Yet on Monday, Day 1, it seemed everyone was wondering and asking where Bill Clinton would be speaking, as though his repulsive behavior during the 2008 Democratic primary were another magically forgivable dose of that too-familiar Clintonian slime.
No, we must all go listen to this man speak, and listen carefully. Could whatever Bill Clinton have to say, about anything, really be that important?
Admittedly, I was pretty much ready to rush over to hang on Mr. Clinton's slithery words for the afternoon like everyone else, and then I caught myself. 'Wait a minute,' I thought, 'F–k Bill Clinton.' If nothing else, a modern world unable to get its act together and stop and destroy AIDS is a modern world that you must live in. Live every day. So I promptly left the conference site and kept a date to do a little shopping in Centro and have a nice looong lunch with someone dear to me, among friends, in the open summer air.