Friday, July 09, 2004

When Do the Adults Take Over?

The global increase in HIV infection rates has been cited as "one of the greatest threats to U.S. and global security."

Yet the Bush administration has cut the number of US representatives to the international AIDS conference in Bangkok Sunday by 75% because poor Tommy Thompson was heckled last year:

The U.S. government will send only one-quarter as many people to the huge international AIDS conference starting Sunday in Bangkok as it sent to the last one in Barcelona.

The decision to cut attendance, which comes as the Bush administration is rolling out its five-year, $15 billion global AIDS treatment plan, was reached long after many government scientists had made plans to attend the conference, which is held every two years. Dozens of scientific presentations were withdrawn, about 50 will be published only as summaries and not presented publicly, and dozens of meetings -- many designed to train Third World AIDS researchers and foster international collaboration -- were canceled.

The move, which officials say is to save money, is interpreted by many AIDS experts as payback for the heckling of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at the last AIDS conference and further evidence of a "go-it-alone" attitude in the administration's global AIDS program.


The U.S. government's diminished presence is being greeted in some quarters with chagrin, amazement and disgust.

"It's unfair, it's a pity, it's also a bit awkward," said Joep Lange, a Dutch scientist who is president of the International AIDS Society and a co-chairman of the conference.

"The largest group in the world in terms of AIDS expertise comes from the U.S., so it's important this expertise is at the conference," said Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, the program run by the United Nations and the World Bank. The reduced attendance "is a big deal for the quality of the conference," he said.