WASHINGTON -- Harvard University, sponsor of the 1992 International AIDS Conference, will move the prestigious scientific meeting from Boston to a location outside the United States to protest U.S. AIDS immigration policy, university officials announced yesterday.
Harvard's decision, made after months of agonizing, calls into question whether the conference will ever be held in the United ** States again.
"I think it's important that this meeting be in the United States," said Dr. Paul Volberding, president of the International AIDS Society, which oversees the conference. "The major research is being done here.The major people doing the research are here. It's crazy not to be able to have it here."
The Bush administration still has not announced its final immigration policy for people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. But Harvard conference planners said they felt they could delay no longer, since the meeting is only eight months away and current immigration regulations bar the entry of AIDS-infected people for any reason.
Harvard had threatened last year to abandon the conference if the immigration rules were not changed. About 15,000 people had been expected to attend the Boston conference.
"This conference is critical in the fight against AIDS," said Dr. Max Essex, chairman of the Harvard AIDS Institute. "It is essential to ensure the ready access of scientists and citizens from all over the world to the International AIDS Conference. Unfortunately, it is not possible at this time to offer assurance that U.S. immigration policy will allow individuals with HIV [human immunodeficiency virus] . . . to attend."
Dr. Essex said, "This crucial scientific meeting must not be canceled. We have therefore reluctantly decided to find another location for the conference, despite the difficulties involved."
President Bush, speaking to reporters before a round of golf at Kennebunkport, Maine, said it was "too bad" that Harvard had decided to shift the meeting. "But they'll find other ways to get together, so it doesn't bother me," he said.
Some observers think the administration would be just as happy see the meeting take place outside the United States so as not to call attention to AIDS when a presidential campaign is only weeks away.