Open Letter:

Open Door Policy for Bangkok AIDS Conference

Mr. Joep Lange
President, International AIDS Society
AMC-IATEC
PO Box 22700 - Meibergdreef 9
NL 1100 DE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
info@aids2004.org

In the interest of "Access for All," this is an appeal to you for an OPEN DOOR POLICY for the approximately 90% of Scholarship Applicants who were rejected.

Although they were not awarded scholarships to attend the Bangkok International AIDS Conference, we believe that IF they are able to make their way to Thailand, they should NOT have to pay the prohibitive and repressive $1000+ registration. This will be especially useful to myriad Asian communities regionally.

In past Conferences, such accommodations WERE made to PWAs and their advocates. In Yokohama, 1994, the Conference ended up opening the doors to the PUBLIC! Entrance to this Conference fosters community empowerment and must be expanded. History has taught us that if there will be any accomplishments from this Conference, it will only be from the empowerment by people with HIV and their advocates. Entrance fees should NOT exclude them by raising impossible fiscal barriers.

OPEN THE CONFERENCE!  Otherwise, we fear your name, and this Conference, will be attached with the exclusion of people and the irony of "Access for All".

Signed

  
[sign-ons sent individually]

*************

Background

This is the rejection letter received by scholarship applicants:

It is with regret that we have to inform you, that you have not been awarded a scholarship for the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, 11-16 July 2004. The AIDS 2004 International Scholarship Program received close to 10,000 applications from all corners of the world, and out of those only 10% have been selected for a scholarship.

The selection criteria and budget allocations for scholarships were firstly recommended by the Scholarship Working Group and later approved by the Conference Organising Committee.

To ensure that the Conference theme "Access for All" fully extends beyond the program, active participation in the Conference itself remains a priority. With this in mind, the Conference Organisers have decided to give all unsuccessful scholarship applicants the possibility to register at the lowest registration fee (USD 800 or 1,000 depending on country of residence) that was only available until 2 February 2004. If you would like to accept this offer please download the registration form from the Conference website http://www.ias.se/pdf/Scholarship%20Application%20Denied.pdf. Note that the form must be faxed or sent by post to Congrex, i.e. the company handling registrations. Congrex has been given a list of all unsuccessful scholarship applicants and your registration will be checked against that list.

We are aware that not all scholarship applicants will be able to make it to the Conference. However, we sincerely hope that all of you can participate in some of the activities that will be taking place before and after the Conference. In addition to getting updates through media, do make sure that you check the website, http://www.aids2004.org. Here you can read the daily Conference newsletter, find out about the latest research findings and many other interesting happenings during the Conference.

We wish you all the best in your endeavours and significant commitment to HIV/AIDS!

Sincerely,
The International Scholarship Department
XV International AIDS Conference



Response by the Conference



June 22, 2004

"Making the Conference as Accessible As Possible"

As the organisers of the XV International AIDS Conference (11-16 July, Bangkok), the International AIDS Society and Thai Ministry of Public Health are writing to respond to a number of important issues related to participation in the Conference that have been raised by several concerned individuals and groups.

For the past 16 months, we have worked closely with our five co-organisers (the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, International Council of AIDS Service Organisations, UNAIDS and the Thai NGO Coalition on AIDS) to plan a dynamic, unified program, which will emphasise the three main elements of science, community and leadership.

We are eager to welcome to the Conference as many international participants as possible. However, for both financial and security reasons we are unable to open the doors of the Conference to all scholarship applicants whose applications were declined, or to other individuals who are unable to afford the registration fee.

To underscore our shared commitment to the Conference theme of Access for All, we would like to bring to your attention a number of steps we have taken to ensure that the Conference theme extends beyond the program to participation in the Conference itself. These include:

* Reducing the registration fee by USD 100 (compared to the amount charged at the previous Conference in Barcelona in 2002);
* Subsidizing the fees of up to 1,000 Youth/Students, who will only pay USD 250;
* Funding of 2,200 scholarships – the highest number of scholarships ever awarded;
* Simultaneous translation (English to Thai, Spanish, French and Mandarin) of all plenary speeches and at least two program sessions per day;
* Supporting the development of a fund to expand the local scholarship program to those working on the frontlines of the epidemic;
* Creating the first-ever Global Village, an area within the Conference venue, which will be open to the general public and allow delegates and non-delegates to meet and interact;
* Featuring a new, vibrant Cultural Program that will extend beyond the Conference venue to many sites throughout the city of Bangkok and will be open to the public;
* Offering, for the first time in the history of the Conference, a range of free educational activities for over 3,000 Thai students, who will be released from school during the week of the Conference to encourage their participation. These activities include a week-long life skills training at a special educational camp at Thammasat University, Rangsit campus, and trips to the Conference.

We understand that even with the efforts described above, the fees will be too high for some potential delegates. In recognition of this concern, the 2004 organisers have arranged for expanded online coverage of the Conference through partnerships with the Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kaisernetwork.org), Medscape (www.medscape.com), and Health & Development Networks (www.hdnet.org). To further expand the reach of the Conference to those unable to attend in person, these organisations will broadcast key sessions over the Internet and will provide additional resources to extend the reach of the Conference, including a daily newspaper written by a team of 55 developing country-based correspondents. In addition, some 1,500 journalists – including more than 40 major broadcasters – will cover the Conference in Bangkok.

The Conference theme of Access for All reflects a strong commitment on the part of organisers to make the most of this unique gathering of community, scientific and world leaders in Bangkok. We look forward to the strong participation of people living with HIV/AIDS, community leaders and NGOs, and appeal to individuals and organisations to help expand access further by contacting the local scholarship program at sponsorship@aids2004.org.

Sincerely,

XV International AIDS Conference Co-Chairs
Vallop Thaineua, Ministry of Public Health Permanent Secretary
Joep Lange, International AIDS Society President


and recently:

Activists fume over cost of 'access for all' AIDS conference in Bangkok

Tuesday June 29, 2004

BANGKOK (AFP) - Activists railed over the 1,000-dollar registration fee for next month's largest-ever AIDS conference, claiming thousands of key voices on the pandemic would not be heard.  The 15th International AIDS Conference expects up to 20,000 delegates in Bangkok for the July 11 to 16 event, which this year has the theme of "Access for All".  

"It's access for all except if you're a poor person," said advocacy coordinator Karyn Kaplan of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, one of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expected to attend.  "It's one of the most expensive AIDS conferences to date, which is ironic given that this is in a developing country," she told AFP. "The reality is that access is still very limited."  She said activists could protest by printing fake passes and to gather in large numbers to force their way in. She also urged delegates to place stickers over their own badges.

Organisers have slapped a 1,000-dollar price tag on registration after May 1, while Thai taxation pushes it to 1,250 dollars. Early registration had been 800 dollars and standard had been 900 dollars.  The fee covers access to all conference sessions and copies of the related documents and reports. Accommodation and meals are not included.  Nimit Tien-udom, director of Thailand's ACCESS Foundation, said NGOs had been at loggerheads with organisers for months over the cost.  "We have tried many times to raise this point in committee meetings. If the registration price is lowered, we can have many more attendees... but they have not made any changes," he said.

Conference director Mats Ahnlund, of the International AIDS Society (IAS), acknowledged that the cost was high but said it was 50 dollars cheaper than the previous gathering in Barcelona, Spain, and it was no different from other medical conferences.  "The IAS is small and we have to cover our costs. This is a not-for-profit event but we cannot subsidise it all," he told AFP.  "I am sure they are concerned," he said of the activists.

IAS has allocated some 2,300 scholarships for people to attend, half of them from outside Thailand, while 3,000 Thai students have been invited at no charge, Ahnlund added.  IAS is promoting a "global village" area on the fringes of the conference that will be free and open to the public, but Kaplan believes it is a ploy to sideline HIV-AIDS activists who are demanding greater accountability from their governments in the fight against AIDS.   "It is hailed as a set-up where the community can gather, when in reality the important conversations are happening inside," she said.

The 15 million-dollar conference will bring together world leaders, scientists, activists and people living with HIV-AIDS.  


 


 


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