As next week’s much-hyped international AIDS conference in Bangkok approaches, critics are questioning whether the exorbitant cost of sending some 170 government, NGO and donor representatives from Cambodia could not be better spent.
With a $1,000 registration fee, the “15th International AIDS Conference” that begins Sunday has been tagged as one of the most expensive in history, organized every two years by the International AIDS Society.
“The money that is sponsoring people to attend this conference is basically coming out of the same budgets…that fund care, treatment and prevention,” said Jim Tulloch, World Health Organization country director.
Events at the conference include a “nightlife lounge,” where attendees can sip complimentary cocktails and watch sex workers “demonstrating their real working lives, including the staging of a-go go dances,” according to an article in the Thai newspaper The Nation.
Tulloch said the WHO is not sending anyone from its Cambodian office, citing expense as one factor keeping employees back.
So far, 173 people will be attending from Cambodia, of which 47 are government employees, said Geeta Sethi, UNAIDS country adviser. She added that about 20 people received scholarships for the registration fee at the conference.
Sin Somuny, executive director of the NGO Medicam, said he would not be attending the conference because the total cost of the trip would come to nearly $3,000.
“We should use this money to buy [anti-retroviral drugs] instead of having this very expensive conference,” he said.
If the $1,000 to $3,000 per person price tag were funneled into pricey ARV drugs, Cambodia could provide the treatment to 500 to 1,500 people for one year.
Currently, an estimated 22,000 Cambodians need ARVs, while about 3,000 people receive them, Sethi said.
“The [director general] prefers to see us us working at the field level than attending meetings,” said WHO consultant Micheline Diepart.