US government stops scientists attending International AIDS Conference

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

The United States government has slashed its budget for sending scientists to the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Bangkok in July, a move that will prevent the attendance of many who have had papers accepted for presentation. It is said to be a reprisal for a demonstration at the IAC two years ago against Tommy Thompson, the US Secretary for Health and Human services.

Two years ago the US department of Health spent $3.6 million sending 236 people to the IAC conference in Barcelona, but the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has announced that it will spend only $500,000 to send 50 US scientists and 80 from Africa.

The DHHS prevents scientists from presenting their work if their travel is not paid for by the government so many who have had their papers accepted by the conference organisers for presentation, will not be able to do so. The department will pay for 20 scientists from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), 20 from the National Institutes of Health and 10 from the DHHS.

According to Science, a confidential email sent in March by Jack Whitescarver, the Director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research, quoted DHHS official William Steiger as saying the decision to cut the number of government scientists “was as a result of the treatment the Secretary received in Barcelona and DHHS opinion that this meeting is of questionable scientific value”. A speech in Barcelona by Tommy Thompson was drowned out by the shouts and whistles of 40 protesters who invaded the stage.

A spokeswoman for CDC told the journal Science that the agency would select scientists according to “which [talks] are most important”. NIH refused to comment.

Meanwhile, the US government is also criticised in an article for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) which says the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) emphasises abstinence and fidelity, advocating condoms for only those who engage in high-risk behaviors. “PEPFAR therefore ignores the group most vulnerable to HIV today — young married women.” The full report is at the AmFAR link below.

Webcasts and other coverage of the XV International AIDS Conference will be available online at will serve as the conference’s official webcaster.


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