Watch: Bill Clinton Heckled at Amsterdam AIDS Conference

Bill Clinton AIDS Conference
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Hecklers disrupted former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam on Friday.

Bill Clinton pleaded with the world Friday not to abandon the campaign to rein in the HIV virus, which still kills nearly a million people every year and infects twice as many. The world must “hold the line” until a vaccine or cure is found, or face “calamitous” consequences, the former president told the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam

“There can be no Brexit in the fight against AIDS,” said the founder of the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, referring to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.”Through a combination of complacency in some places and outright hostility to global multinational cooperative efforts in others, there is a serious risk that many people will say: ‘Let’s quit doing this’,” Clinton told delegates.

The former president’s speech was interrupted by protesters who heckled Clinton over plans to hold the conference in San Francisco in 2020. Clinton told the angry protesters: “You should also know for those of us who care about this issue in the United States, it is a sacred place. Many people died and all the first battles were fought, and they died some more. So I think when you get there, you’ll be glad they held the conference in San Francisco.”

In a statement released Monday, MPACT Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights expressed disappointment over San Fransico being selected to hold the event. “The decision to bring the International AIDS Conference to the U.S.A in 2020 reflects a gross disregard to the expressed requests of gay men, people who use drugs, and sex workers that the conference be hosted in a country where our participation is possible,” George Ayala, the organization’s executive director, said.

HIV activist Matthew Hodson told PinkNews he felt the demonstrators’ concerns were well received by audience members. “I couldn’t put a figure on it, but they received very warm applause from the delegates and they also received applause from President Clinton too,” Hodson said. “I do think it’s problematic that they are planning on holding the next conference in San Francisco, I’m very concerned that key populations will be discouraged from attending.”

Anti-abortion conditions attached to U.S. aid under the Donald Trump administration threatened programmes to halt the spread of the virus, they said. Stipulations approved in Washington in May last year deny U.S. aid to organisations which provide abortion information, referrals, or services — even with their own money. This would cut off other services they provide as well, including HIV counselling, testing, and treatment.

Commonly called the “global gag rule”, the policy now “applies to almost all U.S. global health bilateral assistance,” said International AIDS Society president-elect Anton Pozniak. “The reach of this policy has been greatly expanded, and has the potential to roll back progress on HIV.”

Hundreds of recipient organisations risk losing their funding, according to research presented at the conference. Clinics have already started laying off staff and some have had to close, community representatives said. Activists called for the 2020 AIDS conference to be moved from San Francisco, citing the global gag rule and other policies they say are discriminatory. “No AIDS conference in Trump’s America,” insisted a coalition calling itself “AIDS 2020 for All”.

[H/T ZeroPointNow]

The Agence France-Presse contributed to this report. 

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