Delays in visas for participants at an AIDS conference in Montreal

Among those who have been denied visas or who have not received a response from the government are researchers who were due to present their work and delegates who received scholarships to attend the conference.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, professor of medicine at McGill University and local co-chair of the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2022), said in an interview on Friday that 1,200 people from developing countries have received scholarships to attend the the conference and that at least 400 of them are still waiting for their visas.

He pointed out that it is these 1,200 people who benefit the most from the opportunity to interact with other conference participants. If a significant percentage of them cannot come, “it will be a disaster for the spirit of the conference, for the image of Canada and the federal government,” he said.

Mr. Routy said that the International AIDS Society (IAS) wrote to the Canadian government on Thursday in a bid to speed up the visa approval process, adding that if delegates do not get their visas approved within the next two weeks, many may not be able to book flights and find accommodation before the start of the conference on July 29.

Ironically, he said, much of the funding to bring fellows to the conference came from the federal government, which gave the conference three million dollars.

Thirty working days

Jonathan Ssemanda, a PhD student at Makerere University in Uganda, who is due to present his research on improving adherence to antiretroviral drugs 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 hasn’t heard back.

Mr. Ssemanda pointed out that it is frustrating to see colleagues from non-African countries getting their visas approved while he continues to wait.

Mr Ssemanda, who paid $185 to apply for the visa and submit his fingerprints and photograph, said he did not understand why the Canadian government continued to accept visa applications from countries like Uganda. he did not plan to endorse them.

Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

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

Complex request

Javier Belocq, an Argentinian who sits on the communities’ delegation to the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said his group launched a survey this week to try to find out the number people who were denied visas to travel to Montreal for the conference.

Within two days, 60 people responded to report they had problems, with half of them saying their applications had been rejected.

Mr Belocq said he was unsure whether he would get a visa himself in time after a complex application process that required the help of a friend in Toronto. It was a nightmarehe said.

His friend spent 10 hours online trying to complete all the required paperwork, and after Mr Belocq had his fingerprints and photo taken on June 13 as part of the application, he was told he would have to least one month before a visa can be issued.

Mr Belocq said that, as things stand, many doctors and scientists from the North will attend the conference in person – many of them from countries whose citizens do not need a travel visa to enter. in Canada.

But people living with HIV, community activists and health workers from countries in the South, where HIV and AIDS are far more prevalent, will have to attend virtually or drop out of the conference.

He said the conference, which has drawn around 20,000 attendees in the past, only really has value if the scientists and communities involved come together.

We need to put people at the centerhe said, adding that he was annoyed that the International AIDS Society did not have a plan in place to ensure people could attend.

Open to everyone, even the sick

Iwatutu Joyce Adewole, an African delegate to the UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board, said that although the Canadian government issued her a six-day visa to attend the conference, she is in contact with 13 other people from countries Africans who are still waiting for approval.

Ms. Adewole, whose work focuses on HIV prevention as well as sexual and reproductive health among young women and adolescent girls in Nigeria – a population increasingly affected by HIV/AIDS – also argued that those most affected should be able to attend the conference.

Ms Adewole said the AIDS crisis in Africa is based on inequality, which has made access to medicines and information more difficult than in wealthier regions.

If the people affected by this inequality are not present, then you are saying that they do not count and their voice does not matter and that you can do things with or without themshe argued.

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