Some 30 AIDS activist stormed the stage and others heckled Thompson as he spoke at the conference in Barcelona, Spain. Bodyguards surrounded the secretary as he continued, his speech largely unheard, but at no time did Thompson appear to be in danger.
Protesters, many of them from the U.S., shouted “Shame, shame,” and waved signs that said “Wanted: Bush and Thompson for murder and neglect of people with AIDS.”
The United States has committed $200 million to a global fund launched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001 to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Less than $3 billion of the fund’s $10 billion goal has been pledged thus far, and protesters accuse the U.S. of not pulling its weight and call on the largest economy in the world to commit far more to the fund.
Thompson reportedly completed his speech calmly, took a drink of water, removed his glasses and walked backstage to conduct a press conference.
“The United States is passionately committed to this international fight,” he said. “I understand that people are passionate about this and want to blame the United States… But the United States under President Bush has doubled the amount of resources it provides for the fight against AIDS.”
Protesting against pharmaceutical companies and government officials is common at AIDS conferences and Thompson noted that he is the first health and human services secretary to return to a conference since Louis Sullivan attended under George H.W. Bush a decade ago.
“No other secretary has had the courage to come,” he said. Sullivan was shouted down when he attended as well.
New numbers released in anticipation of the conference show that 40 million people are now infected with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Officials now say that the world has not reached the peak of the epidemic and that infection rates are expected to soar by the end of the decade.