Michael Kirby delivering the Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture at AIDS 2014. (Credit: International AIDS Society/Steve Forrest)
The official start of the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) featured a series of eloquent, heartfelt, moving speeches by a diverse range of people, from outspoken advocate and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé (who held up a protest sign as he began his speech) to the humbled and overwhelmed Yohana Haule, a 21-year-old Tanzanian man who won the competition to design the conference logo.
But easily one of the most powerful moments of the evening was the speech given by Michael Kirby, a former High Court of Australia justice and a widely respected global human rights advocate. The full text of his speech is available online, and is worth reading in its entirety. But here is a selection of some of his most poignant statements.
- "We who gather at this conference in Melbourne are no strangers to cruelty and loss. We know about suffering, irrationality and hatred. We have not been free of these forces for a single day since HIV/AIDS first appeared in our midst 30 years ago."
- "How cruel and self-centered these murders appear to be. How reckless and outrageous to make such means available to zealots. How much more pain do we have to face in the world of AIDS before we are through this bleak experience?"
- "All laws and strategies to deal with HIV and AIDS must be based on science, not mythology and prejudice. Science has brought us the miracle of triple combination therapy and new lines of treatment. Science has relieved suffering. It has made a big difference."
- "The best way in current circumstances to get people to testing and to reduce the toll of death and suffering is not by punishing and isolating those infected with HIV. It is actually by protecting them. ... Law and policy must be made part of the solution, not part of the problem, of AIDS."
- "No side in politics has a monopoly on wisdom or compassion on AIDS. Many have contributions to make."
- "Someone must tell those who will not act the practical facts of life in our world. They cannot expect taxpayers in other countries to shell out, indefinitely, huge funds for antiretroviral drugs if they simply refuse to reform their own laws and policies to help their own citizens."
- "To those who live with HIV, to those who have died of AIDS, and to those who have died in the struggle to advance the principles of our declaration, this Melbourne conference should give a renewed commitment ... never to allow the forces of cruelty and ignorance to deflect us. And never to be content whilst anyone is at risk of being left behind."
Myles Helfand is the editorial director of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Myles on Twitter: @MylesatTheBody.
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