The 17th International AIDS Conference is winding down in Mexico City.
The closing ceremony will be held Friday. This was one of the biggest
and most expensive such conferences, drawing more than 24,000
participants from all over the world. But there has been no major
announcement and, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, the
multi-million dollar conference has spawned a few critics.
people in attendance here believe it was worth the expense and time to
come here for the AIDS Conference, but after several days of formal
sessions and informal gatherings many admit to being exhausted and, in
some cases, discouraged.
More than two decades after AIDS first
appeared there have been some major improvements in treatment and
prevention programs, but a cure remains elusive. The conference itself
is seen by many participants as a useful way of keeping world attention
on the problem, but some participants question whether the cost
involved was worth it. An African participant who spoke to VOA
suggested that perhaps all the money spent here would have been better
spent on AIDS research or treatment programs.
One vocal critic
is Elizabeth Pisani, author of The Wisdom of Whores, a book that
chronicles some of her experience working in the AIDS field for the
past 15 years. Speaking to VOA, she questions the direction the
conference has taken.
"It used to be a scientific conference, it
used to be a place where people got together to catch up on one
another's research and to really understand the latest of what is going
on. That is not so necessary anymore because communications have moved
on so much-the internet, online journals. There are so many ways to
communicate now that we did not have previously. Also, these
conferences have become so political and it so much about showmanship,"
Pisani says these conferences attract what she likes
to call the "AIDS Mafia", which includes various non-governmental
organizations as well as pharmaceutical firms and AIDS activists, all
of whom, she says, benefit from the event. She says the host city, in
this case Mexico City, also benefits, not just from the money spent by
the more than 24,000 visitors, but directly from the profits of
the conference itself.
"Everyone here, as a delegate, paid $1,000 or more to be here. They are profit-making enterprises
and that profit gets shared between the International AIDS Society and
the city in which the conference is held. On the other hand, I am here.
That is my personal hypocrisy. I am here because I get to catch up with
old colleagues and such," she said.
Elizabeth Pisani describes
the AIDS Conference as a big party that has value in bringing people
together, but may not be worth the millions of dollars spent on the
event and the money spent by the participants to get here.
spite of her admission that she, too, is some ways part of what she
calls the "AIDS Mafia", Pisani and her ideas are not very popular with
the people who organized this event.
Craig McClure, Executive
Director of the International AIDS Society, the principal sponsor of
the conference, rejects the idea that the money could have been better
He tells VOA that there is great value in
bringing various groups and people together in common cause. "Industry,
scientists, celebrities, politicians, all coming together to work
together to respond to HIV sends a message to everyone working on every
other issue in the world that the way forward is to engage the people
most effected and to engage leadership. So I think this conference is
well worth the $25 million it costs to put it on," he said.
says the conference is also valuable for the attention it draws from
the international media, whose reports help remind the world of the
importance of prevention as well as the need for more research. He says
the conference also has a positive impact on the country where it is
McClure says the benefits are already apparent here in
Mexico. "[There is] a stronger partnership between the community,
science and the government. [There was] an announcement from President [Felipe] Calderon, who two years ago was actually quite conservative
about HIV and AIDS. At the opening he announced that he would end the
law that prevents the import of medication from companies that do not
have plants in Mexico. He met with 50 NGOs [non-governmental
organizations] and committed to fighting homophobia," he said.
The International AIDS Conference comes to a close Friday.