The 6th International AIDS Conference, which produced hopeful reports of new treatments but no medical breakthroughs, ended with a plea for unity and a furious denunciation of the government's performance against the epidemic.
Dr. Louis Sullivan, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, appeared at the closing session of the conference Sunday to urge researchers and activists to renounce theatrics and "stand together."But his message was all but drowned in an ear-splitting din of whistles, boos, taunts and chants from hundreds of protesters enraged by Bush administration AIDS policy.
Some of the 10,000 delegates heeded the protesters' call to stand and turn their backs on Sullivan, the federal government's top health policymaker.
Sullivan's speech included no announcement of major policy changes and skirted the U.S. government's immigration and travel restrictions on people infected with the AIDS-causing human immunodefiency virus, or HIV. About 100 international groups boycotted the meeting to protest the policy that bars HIV-infected foreign visitors unless they obtain a special waiver.
The five-day meeting could be the last international aids conference held in the United States. The International AIDS Society, one of the sponsors, has withdrawn its support for holding the 1992 meeting in Boston unless the U.S. government lifts travel restrictions on foreigners infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
The 1991 conference is set for Florence, Italy.
Jeffrey Fricke, an AIDS educator with the University of California-Los Angeles, was among those who joined the protesters in turning their backs on Sullivan.
"He has the authority and power to do something about this restrictive policy," Fricke said. "There are many people here who are not activists who agree that civil disobedience is the way to get attention in certain circumstances, and this is one of them."
Sullivan's speech was delayed 10 to 12 minutes by the high-decibel protest.
"No more words. We want action," chanted the demonstraters, who were kept away from the stage by police barricades. They handed out a leaflet in the hall that said, "After 10 years of Bush/Reagan rhetoric on AIDS, we will no longer tolerate words without action."