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(WP) With Fanfare, Global AIDS Conference Gets Underway in
David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer
July 8, 1996
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 arriving here.

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 the question.

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, she said.

"These countries will lose an entire generation of elders," Zuma said.

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

Copyright (c) 1996 - The Washington Post. Reproduced by permission. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Permissions Desk, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071



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