Bush Administration Reduces Presence At AIDS Conference For Fear of Being Booed

Yesterday, 24,000 scientists, activists, and officials arrived in Toronto for the world’s “largest ever AIDS conference.” “[S]ome of the most important breakthroughs in the fight against AIDS have been announced” at these conferences.

But instead of engaging the global community on solutions, the Bush administration has decided to cut back its presence at this year’s conference because it can’t stand mild criticism:

Travel restrictions implemented by the office of the U.S.a Global AIDS Coordinator following the 2002 International AIDS Conference in Barcelona “” at which former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was booed by critics who believed the U.S. contribution to the Global AIDS Fund was insufficient “” reduced the maximum number of HHS officials who can attend the conference by two-thirds, from more than 230 in 2002 to 50, according to HHS spokesperson Bill Hall.

The Bush administration’s “intensely ideological approach” to HIV/AIDS issues has stirred more resentment than hope among the activist community. The government’s “ABC” policy — “Abstinence, Be Faithful, and Use a Condom” — has been “criticized for excessively encouraging abstinence and marital fidelity,” with condoms demoted to “a last-resort option.”

Bill Gates sharply criticized the administration’s approach in the conference’s keynote address, pointing out that abstinence “is often not an option for poor women and girls, who have no choice but to marry at an early age.” A recent GAO report found that the President’s policy had “created a culture of fear” among aid partners.

Bush’s policies sound like they deserve a few boos.

— Rohan Mascarenhas