VANCOUVER, B.C., July 7 - The 11th International Conference on
AIDS opened here today with all the ceremony and
international flavor of an antimicrobial Olympic Games.
This is the first international AIDS conference in two years,
and with 15,000 delegates, journalists and commercial
exhibitors, it is the largest so far. It's also one of the more
eagerly anticipated scientific meetings in years. Data on
promising new drug treatments for AIDS, insights into the ways
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects cells, and the
mechanisms of "host resistance" to that attack are scheduled to
top the agenda.
As with previous AIDS conferences, there is also controversy.
The refusal of Jean Chretien, Canada's prime minister, to open
the conference caused angry protest even before attendees began
The opening ceremonies were held in the cavernous General
Motors Place, home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and the
Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team. The first speaker was
Doreen Millman, a middle-aged Vancouver woman who, like her
son, is infected with HIV.
She was followed by representatives of four West Coast Indian
tribes, who offered greetings and prayers; an Inuit rock singer
and dancers; a pianist who played pieces by Ravel and Chopin;
and the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir.
It's traditional for the host country's leader, along with a
prominent person from a developing nation, to open the
conference. At the 1989 Montreal meeting, Brian Mulroney, the
prime minister at the time, spoke. But Chretien, who was
invited eight months ago to do the same, declined.
His reluctance apparently stems from pressure it might put on
his government to fund another five years of Canada's National
AIDS Strategy. The program provides about $42 million to pay
for a drug trial network and prevention projects. The second
five-year budget runs out in 1 1/2 years. Whether -- and at
what level -- it will be renewed has not been announced.
Canada's health minister, David Dingwall, spoke instead of
Chretien, although all his remarks were accompanied by chants
of "Shame! Shame!" from AIDS activists. One of them waved a
large Canadian flag that in its field had the ubiquitous red
AIDS ribbon instead of a maple leaf.
Earlier in the program, when Glen Clark, British Columbia's
premier, welcomed the delegates, he began by saying, "Nothing,
nothing could have prevented me from being here today."
Also a keynote speaker was Nkosazana Zuma, health minister of
South Africa, a country that hopes to host the international
AIDS conference in 2000. She reminded the audience that most
people infected with HIV live in Africa, where therapies
involving combinations of expensive antiviral drugs are out of
AIDS is changing the population structure of many of these
countries. By 2010, the life expectancy in Zambia is expected
to fall from 66 years to 33. In Zimbabwe it will fall from 70
to 40, and in Uganda from 59 to 34, if current trends continue,
"These countries will lose an entire generation of elders,"
Even on the scale of scientific mega-conferences, this one is
huge. Researchers will give about 800 oral presentations at
three sites in Vancouver. There will also be about 4,000
scientific "posters" -- written and illustrated research
reports displayed on bulletin boards, with the scientist
occasionally in attendance to answer questions.
The slogan of the conference is "One World. One Hope." About
125 countries are represented among the 10,000 biologists,
epidemiologists, social scientists, public health officials and
activists. Representatives of drug and medical device
companies, publishers and reporters make up most of the rest of
the people in attendance.
NAMED PERSONS: CHRETIEN, JEAN ORGANIZATION NAME: INTERNATIONAL
CONFERENCE ON AIDS
DE Acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Meetings and conferences;
Canada; Foreign heads of state; Medical treatment; Drugs and
medicines; Medical research
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