Visas slow to be approved for an AIDS conference in Montreal

Visas slow to be approved for an AIDS conference in Montreal

Jacob Serebrin and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Hundreds of delegates from Asia, Africa and Latin America who are due 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 had their applications turned down.

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 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.

Routy said the International AIDS Society (IAS) wrote to the Canadian government on Thursday in a bid to expedite the visa approval process, adding that if delegates do not have their visas approved within the next two weeks, many may not be able to book flights and find accommodation before the conference begins 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 $3 million.

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.

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.

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 get an idea. the number of people who were denied visas to travel to Montreal for the conference. Within two days, 60 people responded to say 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 nightmare,” he 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 the country. 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 in the past has drawn around 20,000 attendees, only really has value if the scientists and communities involved come together.

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

Iwatutu Joyce Adewole, the Africa NGO 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 African countries still awaiting 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 there, then you are saying that they don’t matter and their voice doesn’t matter and you can do things with or without them,” he said. she argued.

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