Officials Defend High Cost of HIV Conference

Aid workers and government officials defended the expense of attending an international AIDS conference in Bangkok, despite criticism over the conference’s $1,000 per person registration fee.

Cambodia is sending 173 people—including 45 government officials—to the “15th Inter­national AIDS Conference” that begins Sunday, said Dr Tia Phalla, secretary-general of the National AIDS Authority.

“We need to learn a lot from outside [the country] on how to mobilize resistance to fight HIV/ AIDS,” he said Thursday.

Tia Phalla said NAA’s attendants would present information about Cam­bodia’s struggle to monitor the virus.

A list of participants provided by the NAA showed that UN agencies are sending the greatest numbers, with about 20 attendants. The US government’s aid agency, US Agency for Inter­national Development, is paying for 14 people to attend. JICA, the Japan­ese aid organization, is funding four participants.

“All of the people [funded by USAID], the idea of their going was approved in advance based on the fact that they have something substantive on HIV/AIDS,” US spokeswoman Heide Bronke said Thursday, referring to re­search or program information the participants would present.

Sin Somuny, executive director of the NGO Medicam, however, still questioned the efficacy of sending so many people to the conference.

“I doubt about the real benefit,” he said. “There is some benefit, but if we are talking about cost ef­fect­­iveness, I think that conference is too expensive…. The mo­ney should buy [antiretroviral drugs] for the children.”

Sharon Wilkinson, director of CARE International in Cambodia, agreed the registration fee is too ex­pensive. She said six of her NGO’s 12 attendants were funded by scholarship.

“The issue about the registration fee is something that should be addressed,” she said. “One of our main reasons is to network with others and to get up-to-date information on what works.”

She said CARE’s attendants would be traveling by land and sharing hotel rooms to cut costs.

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