AIDS meeting organisers protest low US participation

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The organisers of the next biannual International AIDS conference, which takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, in July, have protested at the US government’s decision to restrict the number of US delegates.

In a letter to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, the two co-chairs of the conference “express [their] regret about the limited participation and contribution of US researchers in the conference”.

“It is unfortunate that the travel restrictions [imposed] on US government researchers will now prevent a number of scientists from presenting their vital research during the first International AIDS Conference to take place in Southeast Asia,” write the co-chairs, Joep Lange of the Stockholm-based International AIDS Society, and Vallop Thaineau, Thai Ministry of Public Health.

HHS announced last month that it would scale back the number of US government researchers sent to the conference, a biannual meeting of the world’s leading experts on the disease.

This year, HHS has allocated 10 places for its own staff, and 20 places each for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. By comparison, more than 230 people from HHS and US health agencies attended the AIDS meeting in Barcelona in 2002.

According to the journal Science, the decision to limit participation may have been a reaction to events at the last AIDS conference, held in Barcelona in 2002, at which Thompson was heckled by hundreds of AIDS activists.

The conference co-chairs suggest that the US decision could jeopardise the progress made at the conference. “The full effect of the more limited participation of US scientists is not yet clear,” they write. “[But] as a result of cancellations of three US satellite meetings so far, we will no longer benefit from hearing presentations on testing options for measuring HIV incidence, enhancing psycho-social support for children affected by HIV/AIDS and advancing HIV prevention and care in the Asian context.”

They also said in their letter that they were willing to work with sponsors to help finance participation by more US researchers to the event.

Link to letter from conference organisers 

Link to statement by the XV International AIDS Conference on the reduced number of US government researchers