“Being HIV positive today is more of a burden than it was in 1987”
The global summit on AIDS that opened in Vienna has warned against steep cuts in funding to combat the disease in the wake of the financial slump. Jean-Luc Romero of the France’s National Council on AIDS, offered some insight into the debate.
The 18th International AIDS conference that opened in Vienna on Sunday has been marked by concern that financial pledges to fight the disease won’t be as significant as in past years. This climate of anxiety is essentially due to the financial crisis and the spending cuts enacted by governments around the world. As the forum opened, dozens of activists took control of the stage to criticise governments that refuse to follow up on their commitments to tackling the disease.
Jean-Luc Romero, a member of the council for the Ile-de-France region, is a member of the Conseil national du sida (National Council on AIDS, or CNS). He spoke to FRANCE 24 about the ongoing conference and describes the expectations of those attending.
FRANCE 24: Despite the ongoing economic crisis, would you describe the overall spirit of the conference as a positive one?
J.-L. Romero: People here are anxious and impatient. They are worried because they are not seeing greater levels of funding and donations. They are impatient because the World Health Organisation’s health objectives are far from being met. These objectives, among other things, promised to establish universal medical coverage for all those infected by the virus by 2010 and aimed to halt the spread of the virus and reverse the trend by 2015.
We would need at least $25 billion to work efficiently against the disease. This figure may seem large, but it is very little in comparison to the exorbitant sums put forward to rescue banks during the financial crisis.
FRANCE 24: What are the main themes that have emerged at the conference so far?
J.-L. Romero: There has been a lot of discussion on limiting the transmission of the virus between drug addicts. This is particularly relevant to Eastern Europe, where governments are refusing to legalise needle-exchange programmes.
I would also like to emphasise the importance of gay rights, which don’t exist in many countries. This hinders the fight against AIDS. It is particularly obvious in the Caribbean, where countries that penalise homosexuality have a much higher AIDS rate than in neighbouring countries where homosexuality is legal.
Finally, discrimination against those infected must stop. It seems that to be HIV positive is more of a burden today than it was back in 1987.
FRANCE 24: France is the greatest European donor in the fight against AIDS. What about the government’s 2010-2014 plans to crack down on the disease, which have not been presented yet?
J.-L. Romero: I am aware of the main outlines of the plan and I am very concerned. French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was supposed to present the plan at the Vienna conference, but due to strong opposition, it is likely to be presented this year. It is now July, 2010, and a plan that is supposed to be implemented for 2010 to 2014 has still not been made public.
In France, people expect a clear political discourse. France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, made a statement yesterday in which she showed her commitment to fighting AIDS. It’s very nice of her to show concern, but we would rather like to see her husband [President Nicolas Sarkozy] do something about it. In fact, France has not adopted a strong stance on the subject since the presidency of Jacques Chirac.
FRANCE 24: Are you in favour of opening special injection centres for drug-addicts?
J.-L. Romero: Of course. I wonder why these centres still do not exist. The Mission interministérielle de lutte contre la drogue et la toxicomanie (or MILD, an institution in charge of fighting against drugs and drug addiction) is against the idea and the government has still not contested it. This means that syringes and drug substitutes are given to drug addicts without giving them a place where it is safe to use them. It is as if you were telling them to go and inject themselves out on the streets. In Switzerland, such special injection centres are legal and have had a spectacular effect on the level of drug addiction.
Furthermore, everyone in France who has a sexual life, say from the age of 14 to 77, should be asked to pass an HIV test. Everyone in France should have done a test at some point in their lives. It is crucial to detect those who are HIV positive without knowing it. But to do all this, we need the government to take action, once and for all.