HIV/AIDS expert Julio Montaner urges Vancouver crowd not to vote for Stephen Harper's Conservatives

Dr. Julio Montaner said at a Positive Living B.C. fundraising dinner that the pope is more open than Stephen Harper when it comes to investigating the appropriate public response to HIV/AIDS.

By Charlie Smith,

Federal election 2011

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One of the world's leading HIV/AIDS researchers delivered a barn-burning speech last night condemning Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

At the 25th anniversary gala of the founding of Positive Living B.C. (formerly the B.C. Persons With AIDS Society), Dr. Julio Montaner said that people have "a responsibility to do the right thing" and get friends and family members to vote in the May 2 federal election.

"Because if we don't, we are in for deep, deep trouble," Montaner declared.

Dr. Julio Montaner delivered plenty of newsworthy comments in a short speech last night at a fundraising dinner for Positive Living B.C.

Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, explained that China recently adopted B.C.'s approach for curbing spread of the disease.

He added that he has also been invited to visit the Vatican to discuss how antiretroviral treatment can prolong lives.

"Even the pope gets it, so why the hell does Stephen Harper [not] get it," Montaner, a former International AIDS Society president, said.

The Harper government has launched court challenges to try to have Vancouver's supervised-injection site shut down.

Montaner revealed that B.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country that has experienced steadily decreasing rates of new HIV diagnoses since 1996.

He pointed out that no other region in the country can match B.C.'s record.

"Do the right thing when you go to vote," Montaner advised the audience.

He began his speech by discussing how difficult it was in the early days for those with the disease, as well as for himself as a researcher.

He emphasized that great progress has occurred since then. This is related to the development of antiretroviral therapies by B.C. researchers and vigorous prevention programs.

Montaner credited civic and provincial governments for their consistent support, regardless of who was in power.

"We are extremely fortunate that we have had the most generous medical program in the whole country," he said. "Many of you don't realize how fortunate we have been."

He pointed out that it's reached the point where mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been "virtually eliminated" in B.C.

"Today, a woman infected with HIV will be told for the first time in three decades, 'Yes, you have a problem. We will actually help you. You will have a normal reproductive life. You will have a child. You will put your child through university. And you will be there to see the graduation'," Montaner announced to thunderous applause.

The cheers remained just as loud through his following statement: "Let me be very clear: gay men today can have a normalized life, a normalized sexual life, because we all enjoy our sexual life and they do too, because of antiretroviral therapy. And they should not be ashamed. Actually, we should be proud of that, because that actually makes their life normal."

Montaner also said that research has demonstrated that the even in injection-drug users, the risk of HIV transmission can be decreased by 90 percent.

"I'm not recommending that people start using drugs," he quickly added. "But I'm telling you that bringing treatment to people who use drugs is an essential way to do the best for them and the best for society. You may think this is actually clear to everybody. Let me tell you—it is not clear to a number of people, including Stephen Harper."

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