In less than a year, Thailand will host the world’s largest AIDS conference. It’s only the second time the event will be held in a developing country. As preparations continue, organizers say they expect it to have a major impact in the fight against the epidemic.
The city of Bangkok will host the 15th International AIDS Conference, two years after the previous meeting was held in Barcelona, Spain.
Thailand’s Ministry of Health says, “It’s appropriate the venue is an Asian country, as the epicenter of the global AIDS epidemic is moving from Africa to Asia.”
Joep Lange – current chairman of the International AIDS Society – is also co-chair of the Bangkok conference. He says holding the event in Thailand is “quite significant.”
He says, "The first time one of the world’s AIDS conferences was held in a developing country was in the year 2000 in Durban, South Africa. And that event has had an enormous impact on what happened in the field, especially in regard to scaling up access to HIV drugs in Africa. I don’t think we would have seen a price reduction in anti-retrovirals in 2000 if the conference hadn’t gone to a developing country. And I think that actually moving the conference to another developing country, now in Asia, which is the largest grow area of HIV, I think it will also have a significant impact on that region."
Mr. Lange says Thailand has been a leader in the fight against AIDS. And it also has experience in hosting in major conferences.
The theme of the conference is “Access for All.”
He says, "When you hear that theme you primarily think about access to HIV drugs because that’s what’s really in the picture at the moment. But it means much more. Access for All is a theme that also looks at access to education, access to prevention, access to food. So, it’s a theme that’s actually going to be very broad."
The 15th International AIDS conference will be modeled after the 13th International Conference in Durban. Many praised the Durban gathering as one of the best, while many criticized last year’s meeting in Barcelona.
He says, "Durban was a great success. Barcelona didn’t match that because it didn’t have the coherence. It didn’t have this very important common theme and I think Bangkok is going to be more like Durban. Also because for the first time what they will have in Bangkok is a so-called leadership program. There was a bit of that in Barcelona at the end where several world leaders or ex-world leaders came to the conference. Now, we’ve tried to make the leadership program an integral part of the conference."
The chairman of the International AIDS Society says the character of the conferences has changed over the years. In the beginning, they stressed major scientific breakthroughs. However, he says, since the “pace of discovery has slowed down,” he does not expect any major discoveries to be announced next year. But he adds, “You never know.”
These days, the conference has begun to stress “political action.”
Thailand plans to run a weeklong national AIDS awareness campaign to coincide with the conference. Mr. Lange says the only drawback may be the weather.
"It can be very hot," he says. "It’s also the rainy season. It can also be very wet. So, bring an umbrella."
The 15th International AIDS Conference will be held from July 11th to the 14th, 2004.