Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The International AIDS Conference

As I promised you, more politics than science. Still, it's always a wild ride. This morning, we were greeted by cardboard cutouts of the statue of Liberty (real name: Liberty Enlightening the World. True fact) wearing a sandwich board reading "No sex workers, no drug users, no International AIDS Conference." Here's the point.

The reason the conference is taking place in DC this year, in the U.S. for the first time in
a quarter century, is that president Obama, in 2009, lifted a ban on entry of HIV positive persons into the United States imposed by Ronald Reagan in 1987. That's right, folks, Ronald Reagan wasn't a saint or a hero -- he was a shit. That was one of many idiotic, bigoted and inhumane policies enacted by Ronald Reagan. As a result of Reagan's hatefulness and depravity, it has been impossible to hold the conference in the U.S. until now.

However, the U.S. still denies entry to people who have used illicit drugs or engaged in sex work in the past ten years. True, you can lie on your visa application, but that doesn't really work if you're coming to an international conference specifically as a delegate representing one of those groups. So a lot of people are unhappy that the conference is being held here despite the elimination of the HIV travel ban.

A consistent theme of this conference, year after year, is the urgent need to decriminalize drug use and possession, and prostitution. That does not mean decriminalizing human trafficking or exploitation - it means not making criminals out of victims or people who are just trying to survive however they can. And it leaves plenty of room for diversity of opinion about how exactly to regulate and manage the trade in various drugs of abuse. You don't have to agree to legalization of production and manufacture to agree to stop putting users and addicts in prison.

There is so much cultural, economic and social damage from these punitive policies that I can't even begin to summarize it all here. But for present purposes, when you drive people into the shadows, it becomes much more difficult to prevent and treat HIV infection. If we want to get a handle on this epidemic, we have to extirpate this moral idiocy from our society. And yes, the chief perpetrators of moral idiocy are preachers and their followers who lay claim to piety.

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