International AIDS Society Conference, 2007

The 4th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2007) was held in 2007 in Sydney, Australia four years after Business Events Sydney (BESydney) won the bid. This conference occurs every two years and focuses on the scientific and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS.

The 4th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2007) was held in 2007 in Sydney, Australia four years after Business Events Sydney (BESydney) won the bid. This conference occurs every two years and focuses on the scientific and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS. The aim of IAS 2007 was to: "provide new insights into HIV disease development, prevention and care that can lead to novel research directions, help advance translational research, and move theoretic advances into clinical practice and prevention programmes" (International AIDS Society, 2008).

IAS 2007 was organised by the International AIDS Society in partnership with the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) as the local host. The International AIDS Society is an independent non-profit organisation, its members comprising HIV professionals from around the world. The Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) is the peak Australasian organisation representing the medical and health sector in HIV, viral hepatitis and related areas. ASHM was the local host of the conference, whose roles included generating local marketing and attendance, as well as providing input into developing the 'local flavour' of the Conference.

IAS 2007 attracted over 6,000 delegates from 140 countries, including over 1,000 Australian and New Zealand delegates, as well as media representatives from across the world.

The Conference was attended by a wide range of participants from the Australian HIV sector including clinicians, basic scientists, researchers, students, policy and government representatives, educators, nurses, allied health work workers and social workers. The Australian HIV sector is said to be very collaborative and "they were all interested in attending this and hearing about the latest in research in the clinical and basic science and clinical prevention areas… and to be part of the international meeting here which perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to be part of" (ASHM interview).

IAS 2007 was considered important in raising awareness of the research and scientific excellence of those working in the Australian HIV sector to international delegates. Having over 1,000 Australian and New Zealand delegates at the Conference provided a good local presence, and contributes to the reputation of the Australian HIV sector being known "as leaders in this area". At the Conference "people are looking at this country and what we do and saying 'wow, they’ve got these key people, they’ve got this key research happening… certainly it would put us on the map for this sort of work" (ASHM interview).

"In Australia we don’t have many international conferences relating to HIV. So the conference gave us the chance to increase awareness of the issues in Australia and of the work being conducted here" (NCHECR interview).

Professor David Cooper AO of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at UNSW, was the Conference Co-Chair. He has previously been quoted as saying "being the successful bidder for the IAS scientific conference reinforced to the international HIV research community the value of the work done in Australia. We bat a long way above our weight in this field" (Cooper cited in Business Events Sydney, 2009).

IAS 2007 provided opportunities for members of the Australian HIV sector, including clinicians, researchers and students to participate in an international conference that is well recognised around the world.

"To be part of that and to network with all their colleagues or people who are key figures in HIV internationally – that opportunity is great and not everyone in the sector can travel to international meetings, especially perhaps new researchers" (ASHM interview).

"The high profile researchers within the centre attend many international conferences however the clinical staff and junior researchers don’t have the same opportunity so being staged in Sydney gave them the opportunity to attend and subsequently meet high profile international delegates" (ASHM interview).

"The NCHECR took the opportunity of the conference to celebrate the organisation’s 20th anniversary. They had 1,200 national and international delegates attend the anniversary celebrations – which they were absolutely thrilled about. It increased their profile and enhanced the national and international awareness of the centre" (NCHECR interview).

As a result of hosting IAS 2007, a AU$17.7 million grant was awarded to the University of New South Wales from the National Health and Medical Research Council to support research into HIV. This has led to the University of New South Wales being recognised internationally as a leader in HIV AIDS research, as was demonstrated through a recent AU$18 million grant to the University from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support a research project into HIV drug therapy (Teulan, 2010).

Networking with others in the international HIV community provides the impetus for "people to go away and be enthused about what they are doing locally". This is seen as particularly important in building the young people working in a sector. "Certainly young researchers or people who are not in the field, being able to attend that meeting, an international one, or a national one if it’s in their state is a benefit that they otherwise wouldn’t have and it can build their passion or their interest in the area, or their focus" (ASHM interview).

There are also benefits to be gained from hearing about what others are doing in the field internationally, for example "meeting African researchers or people working in different types of epidemics to see what we can learn from that and how can we collaborate in that sense" (ASHM interview). The opportunities to engage in these networking and knowledge sharing elements of a Conference can therefore be seen to have implications for future clinical practice and research in the Australian HIV sector.

One of the potential benefits to be realised from this networking is the formation of collaborative research partnerships. "As with much research in different areas, people do form collaborative research partnerships with people across the globe and these [conferences] present opportunities to do that" (ASHM interview).

As part of the conference evaluation conducted at the 2009 IAS Conference in South Africa, researchers sought to understand the longer term impacts of the IAS conference on delegates. In order to achieve this, they conducted interviews with delegates who attended IAS 2007, seeking to understand what longer term impacts had resulted from their attendance at this conference.

Delegates identified the following (in order) as the greatest individual benefits they gained from attending IAS 2007:

  • The opportunity to network and share information with other experts
  • Gaining information on ongoing research, new drugs or new technologies (International AIDS Society, 2009)

The ability of a conference to facilitate face-to-face interactions between people is seen to be important in realising such outcomes. "You don’t know who you’ll meet at a conference and we all know that because we've been and we've met someone, then we say 'what do you do' and something happens with that physical meeting and you just don’t have that electronically" (ASHM interview). Conferences are therefore considered important in bringing people together to share new knowledge and ideas and spark potential collaborative relationships.

The event facilitated the "bringing together of similar minds, people researching in similar areas across international contexts… intense discussion and debate… catalyst for driving new research" (NCHECR interview).

"Professors from Africa, UK, US and Australia may find that they each (in their own countries) have been working on similar studies, they will then decide to do the same study as an international cohort – this helps to identify new knowledge, similarities and differences on topic being studied. So a professor from the UK may introduce a professor from France to a professor in Australia and this then creates the opportunity for shared collaboration. The opportunity to meet face to face is extremely important in increasing the understanding of what others in the field are doing" (NCHECR interview).

"One of the big discussion points at the conference was about circumcision in Africa leading to marginally lower rates of HIV infection in heterosexuals – the question became is this the same in the Australian community. Subsequently a study has been conducted to explore this issue" (NCHECR interview).

As part of the long term evaluation of IAS 2007 conducted at the 2009 IAS Conference, 55% of delegates reported they had done something differently in their HIV work as a direct result of attending IAS 2007 (International AIDS Society, 2009). Such changes are able to be achieved as a result of the opportunities for networking and gaining new information provided by the conference. Changes were achieved across three main areas:

  • Clinical practice eg. Use of new drugs or technologies in treating patients;
  • Research eg. Commencing a new research project, or modifying a research approach;
  • Knowledge sharing eg. Informal knowledge sharing with colleagues; formal knowledge sharing through workshops or publications; using new knowledge to inform teaching practice.

As the local host, ASHM realised benefits for the organisation and its members.

Benefits to ASHM were in the form of not only financial gain, but increased memberships and increasing the media profile of the organisation as "we were certainly mentioned in a lot of articles". Also, since ASHM runs their own national conference annually, involvement with IAS 2007 allowed them to see "how a big international conference was run, which gave us some good ideas to expand and improve our own meeting" (ASHM interview).

Involvement with IAS 2007 also provided benefits to ASHM members through the opportunity to showcase their work, network and attend an international conference.

A greater media profile of the HIV issue was achieved around the time of the Conference. "There was a lot of media locally, Asia Pacific and internationally around the event – if that serves to put HIV at the forefront of people’s minds - public, government and others, then that could have benefits" (ASHM interview).

Professor David Cooper believes hosting the IAS Conference in Sydney had benefits for future dealings with Government. "The conference attracted significant media interest and generated support from the private sector as well as State and Federal Governments. In fact, we drew attention to our goal of transforming the National Centre into an Institute with the receipt of funding from the State and Federal governments in association with private philanthropy" (Cooper cited in Business Events Sydney, 2009).

Attracting over 6,000 delegates to Sydney, IAS 2007 was considered "a good meeting to have had here to say we won this and we can hold this sort of meeting" (ASHM Interview). Successful hosting of a conference of this size has benefits for Sydney’s reputation as a capable business events destination.

There are also potentially benefits for development of the conference sector within Sydney that come through hosting of a conference of this size. Provision of necessary IT and technical components to the conference serve to strengthen the destination’s capability, which represents a "benefit for future conferences held here and people’s skills in working on something like that" (ASHM interview).

It is thought that many of the benefits realised through IAS 2007 are actually ongoing benefits. For example, although delegates may have met back in 2007, that face to face meeting and networking that took place at the Conference allows people to feel as though they can still contact each other, having shared that conference experience a few years back (ASHM interview).

Also, there are thought to be ongoing benefits for knowledge sharing and information dissemination. This is facilitated by the ongoing operation of the IAS 2007 website, which houses the abstracts from the Conference. This represents a living resource which people can still access to grow their knowledge on research, drugs and treatments in the HIV sector.

For more information and references please see A Scoping Study of Business Events: Beyond Tourism Benefits.