The Conference Must Go On

For the VIII International AIDS Conference, the Participation of AIDS Patients Is More Important Than Observing U.S. Travel Restrictions

Researchers and conference organizers alike say that not only was the move necessary to take a stand against the discriminatory policy, but that AIDS patients play an important role in the conference and the exchange of ideas that takes place there.

"A lot of important work against the [AIDS] epidemic has been done by infected people," Mann says. HIV-infected individuals have progressed from passive problem solving to active role playing, he says.

Other experts agree that allowing people infected with AIDS to attend the conference is both necessary and vital to the success of the meeting.

"A lot of people infected with HIV are involved in AIDS research," says Lasker Professor of Health Sciences Myron E. Essex, chair of the Institute. For example, he says, "they are involved in teaching about AIDS infection--in fact they are probably more involved as teachers and researchers than people with any other diseases."

According to attendees of past conferences, many speakers at the conference, who were HIV-positive, contributed an integral part to the conference.


"We couldn't do AIDS research without the participation of people who are infected with HIV," says Martin S. Hirsch, professor of medicine.

"The research we do is a collaboration among scientists and patients," adds Hirsch, a clinical AIDS researcher, and director of the Harvard AIDS Clinical Testing Unit. "This collaboration is both necessary and valuable in the process."

"The subject of the conference is the AIDS epidemic across the world," says Fineberg. And people with HIV "have a very important contribution to AIDS research," he adds. "They also want to share their experiences and perspectives. They have an interest to participate and should be allowed to participate in the event."

Researchers Affected

Although the decision to move the conference will enable the participation of HIV-infected people, it may limit the participation of some researchers as well as community health organizations and some AIDS activists, who lack the resources to travel to Amsterdam.

Research efforts by younger scientists may be hampered by the move, says one Harvard official.

"I think it will somewhat interrupt the momentum of AIDS research in the U.S.," says Essex. "A lot of younger scientists who don't have the resources to go to Europe will not be able to go to the meeting."

The move, Essex says, "will inhibit young people who want access to research done by senior scientists."

To many scientists supported by large research universities and the grants they command, however, funding the airfare to Amsterdam may not be a problem. Essex says that senior researchers often have a budget for traveling to meetings.

"The motive for research, and the conduct, will go forward regardless of where the meeting is held," Fineberg says. He adds that he doesn't think the move will have much effect on AIDS research in Boston or the United States.