I Probably Would Have Done the Same

It was all over the front page of the Toronto Sun this morning. 18 hours later it was the lead story on the CTV National News tonight.137 delegates to last month’s International AIDS Conference in Toronto have claimed refugee status in Canada.

Most of the claimants have HIV/AIDS, including a large contingent of women from South Africa, El Salvador, Eritrea, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Even the most cursory research on HIV/AIDS policies in these countries would single out Canada as a potentially welcoming refuge of promising health care, for the short-term at least.

By the time their cases are heard these women and men may be able to prove how medical care has extended their lives. Many of those infected with HIV say they face severe discrimination in their home countries. I wouldn’t doubt that at all.

This apparently happens at nearly all AIDS conferences held in “developed” countries. People, desperate for basic health care, stay behind in a desperate bid to extend their lives. I remember attending the conference when it was held in Vancouver ten years ago. With boxes of first-line antiretrovirals to dig into twice a day, just starting to show great promise back then, many international delegates could only look on with envy. One woman told me people have to walk for miles just to get aspirin for their children. She wasn’t expecting antiretrovirals any time soon – and, as we heard in August, many Africans are still waiting.

Had I not been in the privileged position I was in 1996, and still am now, I probably would have taken desperate measures to stay wherever I had to in order to get medications. Wouldn’t any of us?

Perhaps, had Stephen Harper been more hospitable and welcomed delegates to the conference in person, even more would have stayed. This might be one very small way to begin holding Canada to our promises of delivering medications to the world’s neediest! 137 out of 24, 000 delegates (not all of whom were HIV-positive, I grant you)…that’s still well below 0.7% – another longstanding broken promise regarding foreign aid.

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