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Protesters Take Stage at AIDS Conference - 2002-07-09

Demonstrators interrupted a speech Tuesday by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson at the international AIDS conference in Spain. Protesters in the audience waited silently for Secretary Thompson to take the podium before shouting slogans and marching to the stage.

"Shame, shame, shame!" the protesters shouted. Mr. Thompson paused in his speech when a conference official suggested he let the protest run its course.

"Money for AIDS, not for war [on terrorism]. Fund the Global Fund" the protesters continued, referring to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. They want the United States to help make sure that treatment is available for three million people in developing countries by the year 2005 and support the sale of cheaper, generic medications.

The protesters quieted down and began to leave after about 15 minutes, only to return when Mr. Thompson stepped to the podium. This time, he delivered his entire speech despite the uproar.

Mr. Thompson said some people have found it easy and popular to criticize the United States for not doing enough to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. But he said U.S. government spending on the disease has increased from $14 billion last year to more than $16 billion next year. He said that includes a doubling of international AIDS funding in the past 18 months.

Secretary Thompson said the Bush Administration is devoted to finding a cure and an effective vaccine. "Simply put, no administration in any nation has ever made fighting HIV/AIDS as high a priority as the United States under this administration," Mr. Thompson said. He also said the United States has provided $500 million to the global fund to fight AIDS, TB, and malaria, far more, he said, than any other nation.