High registration fee at TB conference upsets doctors, scientists; many stay away

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on November 01, 2019

Doctors, scientists, and TB survivors invited to the World Lung Health Conference organised by The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) in Hyderabad stayed away from the event citing the high registration fees.

Participants have had to pay between ₹27,000 and ₹65,000 to attend the four-day event on TB. Those who attended are visibly disgruntled. Almost 4,000 stakeholders from across the world are attending it

In some cases, doctors chose to stay away despite their abstracts being accepted, and they being invited to speak at the sessions. Anant Bhan, Adjunct Professor, Yenepoya University in Mangalore, was one such expert.

“As a mid-career medical doctor, I find the registration fees cumbersome. For a topic related to poverty, such high fees leads to doctors not choosing to attend. It is here that we will gain knowledge of the latest regimens, science on how to deal with TB patients better, but it is restricted to a coterie where non-profit funds are available, the government and global agencies,” Bhan told BusinessLine.

Bhan is also a bioethics researcher. He cited an example of the World Congress of Bioethics of which he was in the organising committee where the venue was an academic set-up in Bangalore, and registration fees had been kept low to encourage larger attendance.

Bhan tweeted thus:

Many experts from across the world, including Africa, backed him and voiced protest against the high registration fees and consequent inability to attend. Nigeria-based data scientist Maxwell Onuoha and PhD scholar Petronella Mugoni expressed their discontent and said they could not attend for want of funds, despite abstracts being accepted.

While early bird registrations were €700 (close to ₹55,000), it went up to €775 (over ₹61,000) for registering between June and October, and upto €825 (over ₹65,000) for late entries. For lower- and middle-income countries including India, students, nurses, and young professionals, the rates were between €350 (₹27,000) and €450 (₹35,500).

Attending for a day or two would entail paying separate fees of between €250 (₹19,775) and €350 (₹27,685). And for medical delegates wishing to attend post-graduate courses, they would have to pay a separate fee of between €120 (₹9,492) and €150 (₹11,865) per course, despite having paid registration fees for the conference.

Mumbai-based senior doctor and Superintendent of civic-run Sewri Hospital Lalit Anande was unable to attend PG courses as he had not paid separately for them. Anande, who treats TB patients, is pioneering research on advanced drugs along with other hospitals in India. He said, “I am unable to afford such huge fees, especially for someone like me who works in a civic set-up.”

Nandita Venkatesan, a journalist and a TB survivor, was invited by The Union to speak at the plenary session which was attended by Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu. She was instructed to apply for a ‘Speaker Scholarship,’ but she was later informed that she had not got one. Venkatesan said, “I was asked to pay ₹27,000 for registration for the conference, which I paid.” She went ahead and gave an impactful speech at the plenary.

Santosh Giri, a transgender medical doctor from Kolkata, was hanging around in the community area because Giri along with five other transgenders infected with TB and HIV were not allowed entry into the conference. Giri said, “It was communicated to us that we have been allocated the community space which does not require registration. I came to know a week ago that access to the conference was restricted. I wanted to attend the sessions and increase my knowledge.”

What’s more, the average cost for a sandwich at the venue was a whopping ₹500, and hot-cooked food except bakery items were not available, which distressed many, including government officials who had to go out of the premises for lunch. The lunch buffet cost close to ₹1,400.

To this, The Union replied, “The Union does not set prices for food or beverages on-site as those services are provided entirely by the Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC).”

Most doctors were seen holding their meetings outside the venue as they chose not to pay such high fees. Ravikant Singh, who runs the non-profit Doctors For You said, “I cannot possibly attend with such high fees; so I am meeting people outside the venue.”

Madhukar Pai, Director of McGill International Centre for TB, who travelled from Canada to be at the conference, said he spent close to $5,000 (close to ₹3,55,000) for the four-day affair. “My organisation will not pay for it. I have some personal grant-funding that I used.”

Leena Menghaney who works with Doctors Without Borders said, “The Union had closed the registration for early bird discounts for low- and middle-income countries which was €350, before announcing a waiver of registration for a 100 participants, post which those who had applied but not been accepted for waiver had to pay €400, which is escalated fees!”

In an official statement released after much outrage, The Union said, “The average standard registration fee for the World Conference is €775 (₹61,303), which is set at the industry standard for similar conferences and is less expensive than some others. However, we know that this registration fee is still prohibitively expensive for some delegates. So we offer a low- and middle-income country registration fee of €400 (₹31, 640) – almost a 50 per cent reduction in cost from the normal fee. This reduced fee is also available for students, nurses and young professionals. This year, over 1,300 delegates – or approximately one-third of all conference delegates – paid this reduced registration fee.”

They further said, “The Union and our partners this year provided 270 completely free registrations. In addition to discounts and free registrations, The Union and our partners also made available 50 full or partial travel scholarships to help speakers pay for flights and hotel expenses. For next year, at the World Conference, we are in discussions with sponsors to support The Union to offer a greater number of scholarships.”

Published on November 01, 2019

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