Annual Meeting 2011

AIDS Awareness Promoted at ABA Meetings with Free Condoms and HIV Tests

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Free condoms were a big hit at the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto.

The ABA AIDS Coordinating Committee offered the condoms along with information about HIV and AIDS in an effort to improve awareness for the cause of prevention. Lawyers on their way to meeting registration “ravaged” the information table as they walked by, according to Michael Pates, staff director of the ABA AIDS Coordination Project.

Shelley Hayes, chair of the coordinating committee, says her group has offered the free condoms at past ABA meetings. She described the typical response. “People see our sign. They read it. They walk away. They turn around. They come back and they grab a handful.”

The committee is promoting the idea that every sexually active person should receive regular HIV tests with another freebie: HIV testing. The committee wasn’t able to offer free tests in Toronto because of Canadian regulations favoring finger-prick testing and a sponsor that provides oral swab tests. But about 1 percent of the lawyers registered for the ABA Midyear Meeting in Atlanta got tested. They received the results about 20 minutes later from counselors in private rooms.

Hayes recalls talking to a senior ABA staffer in Atlanta who told her, “I’ve been exchanging bodily fluids with the same person for the last 30 years, and I don’t need to get tested.” Hayes’ response: “And who has that person been exchanging bodily fluids with?” The staffer conceded that Hayes had a point.

Hayes’ committee held a roundtable discussion on Sunday, looking back on the legal developments since the first AIDS case was reported in 1981.

Cynthia B. Knox, deputy executive director of the HIV Law Project in New York City, offered to be “the first pessimist out of the box” as she spoke of issues that troubled her. They include prosecutions for transmitting HIV or failing to disclose HIV status, difficulties in bringing down the infection rate, and growing waiting lists for drug assistance.

As of July 28, nearly 9,000 people were on waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, established by federal law to help low-income people buy AIDS medications if they don’t qualify for Medicaid. Budget problems in the joint federal and state program are leading to waiting lists, expenditure caps and more stringent eligibility requirements. The impact, Hayes says, couldn’t be worse: People are dying.

Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network, also spoke of problems and expressed concerns about the political climate in Canada. With the election of more conservative leaders, there has been “some backsliding” on legal progress, he said.

He acknowledged that Canadian courts have issued some positive rulings that help in the fight against AIDS. In a case pending before the Supreme Court of Canada, trial and appeals courts ruled on behalf of a Vancouver facility called Insite where drug addicts can inject themselves with clean needles, under medical supervision. Insite officials argued with success in the lower courts that Canadian drug laws can’t be applied to the facility.

The program was called “AIDS Turns 30: Where the Law and the Virus Are Today.”

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