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Montreal AIDS conference organizer warns of ‘catastrophe’ if delegates denied visas



MONTREAL — Hundreds of delegates from Asia, Africa and Latin America scheduled to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal next month are in limbo because Ottawa has not issued them visas, organizers say, while dozens of others have seen their applications rejected.

Those who have either been denied visas or have not received a response from the Canadian government include researchers scheduled to present their work and delegates who received scholarships to attend the conference.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, a professor of medicine at McGill University and local co-chair of the International AIDS Conference, said in an interview Friday that 1,200 people from developing countries have received scholarships to attend the conference and at least 400 are still waiting for visas.

He said it’s those 1,200 people who benefit the most from the opportunity to exchange with other conference attendees. If a significant percentage of them can’t come “it will be a catastrophe for the spirit of the conference, for the image of Canada and the federal government,” he said.

Routy said the International AIDS Society wrote to the Canadian government Thursday in an effort to accelerate the visa approval process, adding that if delegates don’t have their visas approved in the next two weeks, many may not be able to book flights and find accommodation before the conference starts July 29.

Ironically, he said, much of the funding to bring scholarship recipients to the conference came from the federal government, which gave the conference $3 million.

Jonathan Ssemanda, a PhD student at Makerere University in Uganda who is scheduled to present his research on improving adhesion to antiretroviral medication at the conference, said he applied for a visa more than two months ago. He was told it would take 30 business days to process, but he still has not received a response.

Ssemanda said it’s frustrating to see colleagues from non-African countries getting their visas approved while he continues to wait.

“I am not a criminal,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I am married here. I have a job here. I’m a student here. I still have three or four more years ahead.”

Ssemanda, who paid $185 to apply for the visa and submit his fingerprints and photograph, said he doesn’t understand why the Canadian government continues to accept visa applications from countries like Uganda if it doesn’t plan to approve them.

The Canadian Press asked Immigration Minister Sean Fraser if he is aware of the problem and what is being done about it, but his office did not immediately provide a response.

Javier Belocq, an Argentine who sits onthe communities delegation to the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said his group launched a survey this week trying to get a sense of how many people were being denied visas to travel to the conference. Within two days, 60 people responded to say they’re having issues, with half saying their applications had been rejected.

Belocq said he isn’t sure if he’ll get a visa himself in time after a complexapplication process that required the help of a friend in Toronto to complete. “It was a nightmare,” he said.

His friend spent 10 hours online trying to fill out all the required paperwork, and after Belocq had his fingerprints and a photo taken on June 13 as part of the application, he was told it would take at least a month before a visa might be issued.

Belocq said as things stand, the conference will have many doctors and scientists from the global north attending in person — many of whom come from countries whose citizens don’t need a travel visa to come to Canada. But the people with HIV, the community activists and the health-care workers from the global south, where HIV and AIDS are far more prevalent, will either have to attend virtually or not at all.

He said the conference, which in the past has drawn around 20,000 participants, is only really valuable if the scientists and the communities affected are brought together.

“We have to put people at the centre,” he said, adding that he’s annoyed the International AIDS Society didn’t have plan in place to ensure people can attend.

Iwatutu Joyce Adewole, the Africa NGO delegate to the UNAIDS organization, said that while the Canadian government has issued her a six-day visa to attend the conference, she’s in touch with 13 other people from African countries who are still waiting for approval

Adewole, whose work is focused HIV prevention, as well as sexual and reproductive health among young women and adolescent girls in Nigeria — a population that is increasingly affected by HIV/AIDS — said the people who are most affected need to be able to attend the conference.

Adewole said the AIDS crisis in Africa is driven by inequality, which has made access to drugs and information more difficult than in wealthier regions.

“If the people affected by this inequality are not present, then you’re saying they do not count and their voice does not matter and you can do things with or without them,” she said.

Adewole said international health conferences should be held in countries that are accessible to people from around the world.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2022.


Jacob Serebrin and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Peel Region reports its first confirmed case of monkeypox – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Peel Region has its first confirmed case of monkeypox.

According to Peel Public Health, the person infected is an adult male in his 30s who lives in Mississauga.

The heath unit said the risk to the public remains low.

Monkeypox, which comes from the same virus family as smallpox, spreads though close contact with an infected individual. Most transmission happens through close contact with the skin lesions of monkeypox, but the virus can also be spread by large droplets or by sharing contaminated items.

To reduce risk of infection, people are advised to be cautious when engaging in intimate activities with others. Vaccination is available for high-risk contacts of cases and for those deemed at high risk of exposure to monkeypox.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash/lesions, which could appear on the face or genitals and then spread to other areas.

Anyone who develops these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider and avoid close contact with others until they have improved and rash/lesions have healed.

While most people recover on their own without treatment, those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for monkeypox should self-monitor for symptoms, and contact PPH to see if they are eligible for vaccination.

The Mississauga case is at least the 34th confirmed case of the disease in Ontario, with dozens more under investigation.

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Monkeypox case count rises to more than 3400 globally, WHO says – The Globe and Mail



More than 3,400 confirmed monkeypox cases and one death were reported to the World Health Organization as of last Wednesday, with a majority of them from Europe, the agency said in an update on Monday.

WHO said that since June 17, 1,310 new cases were reported to the agency, with eight new countries reporting monkeypox cases.

Monkeypox is not yet a global health emergency, WHO ruled last week, although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was deeply concerned about the outbreak.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

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Sudbury news: Northern agencies highlight national HIV testing day | CTV News – CTV News Northern Ontario



Monday was national HIV testing day. Officials say this year’s theme surrounds how getting tested is an act of self-care.

From clinics to self-testing kits, groups in the north say there are many options to get tested and everyone should use whichever way works best for them.

Just more than a year ago, Reseau Access Network in Sudbury teamed with Ready to Know and Get a Kit, groups that provide HIV self-testing kits at a pickup location.

Officials said it has been a huge success.

“We get a consistent number throughout each month and I can’t really divulge those figures, unfortunately, but as part of the overall study I can tell you the pickup of self-tests is a fraction of the amount of tests being ordered,” said Angel Riess, of Reseau Access Network.

“There’s actually a lot of tests being shipped to homes directly but I can confirm that they have been active and there’s a significant number of people who have chosen to engage in both programs.”

Elsewhere, the Aids Committee of North Bay and Area held a point-of-care testing clinic to mark the day.

“It’s an opportunity for us to remind everyone that getting tested is essential. If you don’t know you have HIV, you can’t take the steps to try to mitigate the possibility of spread,” said executive director Stacey Mayhall.

In addition to stopping the spread, knowing whether you are positive sooner rather than later can allow for a better quality of life.

“HIV is not a death sentence that it used to be,” said Riess.

“There have been advances in testing and medication and people can live long, healthy lives living with HIV.”

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