With a warning that AIDS threatens every human being on the planet, the 6th International Conference on AIDS opened with nearly 100 arrests of protesters criticizing the federal government's AIDS-related travel restrictions and its efforts to combat the disease.
Keynote speaker Eunice Kiereini, head of the World Health Organization's nursing task force in Kenya, sounded the alarm Wednesday to approximately 10,000 delegates attending the four-day conference."We can no longer categorize it (AIDS) as a disease threatening some races and not others, only men and not women and children," she said. "Every single human being on this earth is faced with AIDS threat."
The National Academy of Sciences released a report concluding that the AIDS epidemic will broaden its attack on the United States over the next decade, striking more women, teenagers and others once thought at low risk.
The AIDS virus has infected at least 6 million people worldwide, including about 1 million Americans. More than 136,000 AIDS cases have been reported in the United States since the epidemic was detected in 1981 and more than 83,000 have died, more than the number of Americans killed in combat in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. The World Health Organization estimates at least 300,000 people have died of AIDS around the globe since the disease was first detected.
About 100 international groups are boycotting the conference because of the U.S. ban on visitors who have AIDS or have tested positive for the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus HIV.
Conference co-chairman John Ziegler wore a red armband in solidarity with protesters arrested outside the Moscone Center.
"This conference opposes U.S. immigration policy in the strongest possible terms," Ziegler told delegates who stood silent in support of groups boycotting the conference because of the immigration regulations.
During the opening ceremony, nearly 100 people were arrested outside as they moved from a designated area past barricades where one-by-one they were arrested, photographed, and driven away in buses.
No arrests occurred inside the convention center, where several HIV-infected delegates, including Peter Staley of New York's AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, delivered speeches attacking the federal government's response to the AIDS epidemic and President Bush's failure to lift the travel rule or even attend the conference.
"There is a man who could have prevented these absurdities. This is a man who has said he would like to see a kinder, gentler nation," Staley said as a slide of Bush flashed upon a giant screen.
Many members of the packed auditorium stood at Staley's urging to chant, "Three-hundred-thousand dead from AIDS - Where is George?"
Bush refused two invitations to address the conference, choosing instead to attend a fund-raising event for Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a leader in efforts to restrict travel and employment of people with AIDS, Staley said.
No major advancements in the development of a vaccine or treatment are anticipated at the conference.