Daily News Blog: Tuesday at the AIDS 2010 Conference in Vienna

There was evidence that the drugs policy message of The Vienna Declaration was beginning to filter through at the AIDS 2010 conference today, with media outlets beginning to report the message that drug policy reform will lower HIV infection rates globally.

Earlier today the English-language German broadcaster Deutsche Welle had pointed out that outside of sub-Saharan Africa, one third of HIV infections are connected with sharing drug needles, and carried an interview with Dr. Don Des Jarlais, one of the authors of the Declaration. By this afternoon, an AP wire and the Moscow Times were both reporting the message that the continuing spread of AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia was due to stigma and social discrimination against infected youths and drug users. Earlier, Jim Clarken of Oxfam had argued this point eloquently in the Irish Independent, suggesting that eradicating punitive laws against HIV-positive people was at least as important as allocating additional resources to tackle the infection. This idea could prove popular on a day in which there were protests at the conference against reduced funding for AIDS, and many newspapers reported on Bill Gates and Bill Clinton’s stressing of cost-effective strategies in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Worryingly, a report issued today by the HIV/AIDS community in Canada suggested that the Conservative government, which has criminalized sex work and is attempting to shut down the country’s only safe-injection site, was “fuelling” discrimination toward HIV-positive people by not developing a strong marketing campaign aimed at combating stigma.

The UK national newspapers appeared today to ignore the research suggesting that the sharpest rises in HIV infection were occurring in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and although a piece about AIDS 2010 did appear on the Guardian’s Katine blog, this did not address injecting drug users specifically, despite a story on allafrica.com about how drug use in Uganda is leading to the increased spread of HIV among adolescents. The LA times covered the first day of the conference, but failed to mention intravenous drug use in relation to HIV and AIDS. A more enlightening article was found at The Huffington Post, which drew parallels between the treatment of junkies in Russia and the USA.

There was also wide coverage in the US media of the report that found that there is an HIV "epidemic" among the heterosexual poor in US society, which was covered on the CNN blog, in the LA Times, and on U.S. News and World Report. The same story was covered by NPR, with the suggestion that the mainstream press had ignored the true message of the report, that being black is a powerful factor in determining whether you are affected by the AIDS virus.

Finally, Daniel Halperin in the US edition of Reuters published an article titled “Four major misconceptions about the global HIV/AIDS epidemic” that ironically did not mention intravenous drug use once.

We would hope that following the release of the UNICEF figures concerning HIV infection rates in Eastern Europe, there will be more coverage of drug policy reform in the global press tomorrow.