MONTREAL - About 250 protesters stormed the stage on the
opening day of the Fifth International Conference on AIDS.
With chants, placards and stomping feet, they blasted the
world's response to an epidemic that researchers say is
continuing to rage.
"The epidemic has not plateaued. It has not peaked. It is still
continuing to spread into areas where it didn't exist before,"
said Dr. Jonathan Mann, the director of the World Health
Organization's Global Program on AIDS.
Since the epidemic began, it is estimated that 500,000 people
have become infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. "I
expect that to double in the next 2 1/2 years," Mann said.
During the 1990s, three times as many people will become
infected than became infected during the '80s. There will be
nine times as many cases, Mann said during the opening
ceremony, disrupted by people with AIDS.
The protest was unprecedented. It began outside the Palais des
Congres about an hour before the ceremony.
The protesters chanted: "They say cut back; we say fight back!"
And: "Act up, fight back, fight AIDS!"
And, in reference to Canada's immigration policy forbidding
entry to HIV-infected people except for business or family
visits: "The AIDS crisis knows no borders."
The protesters pushed their way into the conference hall past
security officers guarding escalators to the main meeting room
and took over the stage.
Almost all were men wearing black buttons with pink triangles
and the words "Silence = Death."
"On behalf of people with AIDS in Canada and throughout the
world, I would like to officially open the Fifth International
Conference!" shouted Tim McCaskell, the head of AIDS Action Now
For 45 minutes, the protesters chanted and shouted until
conference officials cut a deal with them. The microphones were
turned on in return for the protesters' leaving after they read
their "manifesto" -- a list of demands against discrimination,
against mandatory testing and for rights for gay men and
While half the group filed quietly out after making their
pitch, about 100 more Saturday, in front-row seats reserved for
delegates. They refused to leave and held up opening ceremonies
for another hour. Finally, after the protesters promised to be
quiet, the program began.
This year's conference is the biggest ever.
The series began in Atlanta with 2,000 delegates in 1985. That
was the year Dr. Robert Gallo announced the discovery of the
AIDS virus and Margaret Heckler, then secretary of Health and
Human Services, promised a vaccine within five years.
Today, researchers say a vaccine is nowhere in sight.
The conference, which began Sunday, has attracted 10,800
delegates from 87 countries, including 50 countries in the
Almost 6,000 research papers were submitted for the six-day
conference, which will feature 997 speakers and 3,547 studies
presented on posters. During each day, 16 sessions will run
concurrently on topics ranging from experimental treatments to
society's response to the epidemic.
"From this conference will come the message that AIDS is an
affliction that is worldwide, that affects every single person
in this world in one way or another, and there are steps that
must be taken to deal with it," said Ivan Head, the conference
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