Visas are 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 scheduled to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal next month are in limbo because Ottawa failed to issue them visas, organizers say, while dozens of others turned down their applications to have.

Those who have been denied visas or have received no response from the government include researchers who were due to present their work and delegates who received grants to attend the conference.

dr Jean-Pierre Routy, a 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 grants to attend the conference, at least 400 of them are still waiting for visas.

He pointed out that these 1,200 people will benefit most from the opportunity to connect with other conference attendees. 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 for the federal government,” he said.

Routy said the International AIDS Society (IAS) wrote to the Canadian government on Thursday to expedite the visa approval process, adding that many delegates may not be able to book flights if their visas are not approved within the next two weeks and find accommodation before the conference starts on July 29th.

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

Jonathan Ssemanda, a PhD student at Makerere University in Uganda who will present his research on improving adherence with 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 still hasn’t received a response.

Mr Ssemanda indicated that it was frustrating to see colleagues from non-African countries getting their visas approved while he continued to wait.

Mr Ssemanda, who paid $185 to apply for the visa and submit his fingerprints and photo, said he doesn’t understand why the Canadian government continues to accept visa applications from countries like Uganda, he has no plans to support them.

The Canadian press asked Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser if he was aware of the problem and what was being done about it, but his office did not immediately respond.

Javier Belocq, an Argentine who sits on the community delegation on the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said his group launched a poll this week to try to get an idea of ​​the number of people who were denied visas Travel to Montreal for the conference. Within two days, 60 people responded that they had problems, with half of them saying their applications were denied.

Mr Belocq said he wasn’t sure he would be able to 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 completing all the necessary paperwork, and after Mr Belocq had his fingerprints and photo taken as part of the application on June 13, he was told it would take at least a month before a visa was issued could become.

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 require travel visas to enter the country. But people living with HIV, community activists and health workers from countries in the South, where HIV and AIDS is far more prevalent, must attend virtually or drop out of the conference.

He said the conference, which has drawn around 20,000 participants in the past, only has real value when the scientists and communities involved come together.

“We have to put people first,” he said, adding he was upset that the International AIDS Society didn’t have a plan to ensure people could attend.

Iwatutu Joyce Adewole, the African NGO delegate to the UNAIDS Program Coordination Committee, said that while the Canadian government issued her a six-day visa to attend the conference, she was in contact with 13 other people from African countries, still awaiting approval.

Ms Adewole, whose work focuses on HIV prevention and 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 at the conference should be able to participate.

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

“If the people affected by this inequality aren’t there, then say they don’t matter and their voice doesn’t matter and you can do things with or without them,” he said.

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