Amnesty hosts HIV/AIDS conference

By Adrian Florido

The U of C chapter of Amnesty International hosted a daylong HIV/AIDS conference in Ida Noyes Hall Saturday featuring several prominent experts in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

The conference was aimed at examining recent progress in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and at educating students on how to get involved in anti-AIDS activism locally, nationally, and internationally.

The event included two panels addressing medical and legal perspectives on AIDS and human rights as well as local AIDS activism within the city of Chicago.

Joseph Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at New York–based Human Rights Watch, delivered the keynote address.

Amon presented a number of startling statistics, including the fact that 40,000 people become infected with HIV in the United States each year, two-thirds of them being racial minorities.

He also stressed the importance of listening to the voices of individuals afflicted by AIDS and criticized the politicization that has prevented more meaningful progress toward the disease’s eradication.

Among his criticisms was the Bush administration’s requirement that federally funded anti-AIDS programs be anti-prostitution, as well as the administration’s refusal to fund a needle-exchange program because of its assertion that scientific evidence does not point to decreased rates of infection.

“It’s one thing for the U.S. government to not fund a needle-exchange program—that’s political. But it’s another thing to misconstrue scientific evidence,” Amon said.

Amon emphasized a need for the United States and other nations to become seriously interested in the disease’s elimination.

“If we had the commitment to address this, we could address it effectively,” he said.

Also presenting at the conference was Mardge Cohen, a doctor at Cook County Hospital and the Chicago Principal Investigator for the Women’s Interassociation HIV Study.

Dr. Cohen addressed the issue of domestic abuse and its implications for the prevalence of HIV in women around the world, especially in third-world sub-Saharan nations.

Other speakers at the event included Dr. Stephen Schrantz, a fellow in infectious diseases at the Pritzker School of Medicine, Dr. John Schneider of the Pritzker School, and Eric Friedman, a senior global health policy adviser at the Washington, D.C. office of Physicians for Human Rights.