ICAAP 12: Will it happen? Should it happen?

Le Nguyen – CNS
Discussions and split opinions about the next ICAAP are swirling around the corridors of the Queen Sikirit Convention Center. On Wednesday, they crystallized in the form of debate session entitled: The future of ICAAP: Do we need one in 2015? That the question is being openly asked is healthy. The AIDS ‘community’ must be confident that investment of collective time, attention and resources is made for the best impact. And even though the decision about ICAAP2015 will most likely be made behind firmly closed doors, such a debate should be welcomed.

The slated 2015 host country sees it slightly differently: Bangladesh is speeding its preparations. They have a substantial delegation here in Bangkok, and have a booth brimming with attractive information and promotional materials. The country is clearly taking the current conference as the best opportunity to introduce itself as the destination of the 12th ICAAP.

“We are all ready. Our Prime Minister, Government and Congress are so committed to the successful organization of ICAAP 12,” said Professor Dr. A.K.M. Nurun Nabi, Vice Chancellor of Begun Rokeya Univeristy in Rangpur, Bangladesh. “The next ICAAP in Bangladesh will be very exciting and unique as we focus on the young leaders, the next generations of cultures. It should be the hub for every culture to gather and share with each other, and together we could fight and win against AIDS”.

Some are not convinced it will happen. Sipping cups of coffee, some delegates let out long sighs and lament that this may be the last in a long line of ICAAPs. They fear Bangladesh may be preparing for a conference that will never take place. The overlap with the upcoming International AIDS Conference (IAC) is being raised as a specific reason to question if an ICAAP is needed in 2015. “Why do we need a bi-annual Asia-Pacific meeting while at the same time we have an annual worldwide conference about the same subject here?” one delegate asked.

The ‘Future of ICAAP’ satellite was one of the most open and intense sessions this week, with the audience asking presenters some tough questions. After 11 ICAAPs, questions remain unanswered regarding the costs and use of resources around the event. Can anyone assess whether funds are wisely invested in ICAAP when the budget is still opaque?

One comment from Rico Gustav of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV (APN+) was applauded by most in the room, when he proposed there should be no more ICAAPs until those accounts were made clear. Professor Nurun Nabi strongly objected to the whole idea, saying that Asia-Pacific is the largest region in the world, and affected most seriously by HIV – and that it is also easily neglected when we put our problems into the same pot with other continents.

“So ICAAP 12 – the congress about and for our Asia-Pacific – must go on,” he said. The responsibility for ICAAP’s fate presumably lies with the conference convenors and organizing partners – and ultimately with the sponsors who provide the money required to organize such an event.

Putting questions about the overlap with next year’s IAC and calls for budget transparency aside, a contradiction exists between ICAAP hesitations and calls made here for “no more business as usual”: How can those with a future – the new generation of young people, activists and committed key affected populations – take over and drive the regional AIDS response without a venue like ICAAP where they can learn from the mistakes of the coffee lounge lizards?

Le Nguyen, Citizen News Service – CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.