Harper a no-show for AIDS conference

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 48, No. 7, September 2006, Pages 311-312 Editorials

In 1981 AIDS was first recognized in North America. Twenty-five years later, much scientific knowledge has been gained, and significant medical advances have been realized. I was a first-year medical student in 1981 and the word “AIDS” started as a whisper in the corridor of the hospitals. By the time I graduated an infectious etiology for AIDS had been confirmed, and with it emerged the hysteria, prejudice, and ignorance regarding its contagiousness. My classmate Dr Peter changed so much of that for the people in British Columbia and Canada with his very public media presence chronicling his challenges in dealing with this disease. He put a compassionate, credible, informative, and human face on HIV/AIDS. Looking back again I realize what a profound impact Dr Peter made at the time.

Fast forward to 2006. It is now 25 years later, a milestone that both the New England Journal of Medicine and the Canadian Medical Association Journal have recognized in recent publications. This is also the 10th anniversary of the Dr Peter Centre in Vancouver. Despite the advances of medicine in this last two-and-a-half decades, there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, and the need for compassionate care continues. Hurray for the Dr Peter Centre.

By the time this is published, the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto will have closed. What will be remembered of this conference 10 or 25 years from now? I hope it isn’t that Mr Stephen Harper didn’t show up.

Personally, I would have crawled over broken glass for the opportunity to be in the same room as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. Their combined political and financial capital is enormous, and I have no doubt that their vision and leadership will make a significant positive impact on the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As physicians we know that communication is very much more than the words that are used. Body language and tone of voice are critical elements in the process of coding and decoding of messages. Likewise, caring for people is so much more than just a statement or policy or a directive. You can really only show that you care by showing your presence. Nothing demonstrates compassionate caring like giving of yourself, and Mr Harper knows this well. His personal visit to Afghanistan was an important, tangible gesture to Canadian military personnel, as well as the citizens of Canada. As a physician I regret that Mr Harper delegated the task of representing the government of Canada to his minister of health. I know Canadians care about the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS and I am sure Mr Harper does too. It just would have been better if he could have said it in person.


Heidi M. Oetter, MD. Harper a no-show for AIDS conference. BCMJ, Vol. 48, No. 7, September, 2006, Page(s) 311-312 - Editorials.

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