World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis (WIPCVH) and The 9th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference (AVHC)

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS
  • The first time these conferences were staged consecutively in the same destination and also the first time the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitis was held
  • The Indigenous “Welcome to County” and Smoking Ceremony set a unique tone for the event
  • The conferences jointly contributed over A$1.6 million to the Alice Springs regional community
  • An off-site dinner held at ‘The Quarry’, located at the foot of the East MacDonnell Ranges and just a short coach journey from the heart of town.
Attendance 209 delegates WIPCVH I 410 delegates AVHC
Host City Alice Springs, Australia
Venue Alice Springs Convention Centre
Date 2014 - September

ABOUT THE CONGRESS
This was the first time these conferences have been staged consecutively in the same destination, whilst also the first time the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitis was held.  The conferences brought together a diverse gathering of knowledge, expertise and advocacy in the field of viral hepatitis. Key reason for staging them back-to-back was to maximise the benefits and ease of access for delegates with an interest in both events. Both conferences were run by the ASHM Conference and Events Division. 

The World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitis Conference provided an opportunity to examine the health burden of viral hepatitis in Indigenous peoples, to share common experiences and innovative solutions and develop new relationships. The conference was co-convened by Associate

Professor James Ward of Baker IDI, in conjunction with Professor Chris Cunningham, Chair of the Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand.

The involvement of Indigenous peoples in all aspects was deemed to be key to the conferences’ success.  The Australian Indigenous hosts were the Arrernte people of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), who provided the traditional Welcome to Country ceremony at the opening of both conferences. The distinctive artwork for the conference materials was created by Indigenous artist Ms Rosalie (Kumalie) Riley, who also delivered one of the Welcome to Country presentations.

The Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference (AVHC) is the leading multidisciplinary viral hepatitis conference held in Australasia. Staged biennially, it was first held in Sydney in 1997 and has subsequently been to Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane, as well as Christchurch and Auckland in New Zealand.

The AVHC commenced at lunch-time on Wednesday 17 September, following the close of the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis the preceding afternoon. The AVHC has a very broad spread of delegates including viral hepatitis specialists, gastroenterologists, physicians and general practitioners, nurses, social workers, community workers, educators, pharmaceutical company representatives, scientists, infectious disease specialists and researchers. It also attracts national, state and Territory government agency personnel, non-government organisations, health authorities, as well as people living with viral hepatitis.

Reason for selecting the event destination/venue
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a substantially higher prevalence of chronic hepatitis B, more than ten times that of non-Indigenous people born in Australia. The higher prevalence of chronic viral hepatitis is a primary determinant of the increased incidence of liver cancer and related mortality in Indigenous Australians, which depending on the setting is 2-8 times greater than in non-Indigenous people. Therefore with indigenous people making up 30% of the total NT population, Northern Territory was a relevant choice and also boasts some of Australia’s leading specialist agencies and practitioners.

The Execution
High profile speakers for the conference came from throughout Australia and all corners of the world including New Zealand, the USA, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Germany, the UK, Thailand and Taiwan.  Due to the Northern Territory’s specific relevance to the conference subject matter, a number of the Australian speakers were locally-based and came from respected organisations such as Baker IDI and the Menzies School of Health.

Plenary and poster presentations, forums and concurrent sessions were held during both conferences, confirming the capability and versatility of the Alice Springs Convention Centre.

The social programme for both conferences was designed to highlight the unique attractions, landscape, history and culture of Central Australia and Alice Springs itself. These social events also featured talented local entertainment, including renowned Indigenous performers such as songstress Jacinta Price and artist/performer Tommy Crow.

World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis gets to know Alice
The Welcome Reception held on the Sunday evening for the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Viral Hepatitis was at the iconic Alice Springs Telegraph Station, just a short ten minute drive from town.With heritage-listed buildings dating back to the 1870’s set in spacious grounds, it provided delegates with a memorable taste of the region’s pioneering history.

An informal barbecue was held on the Monday evening at Alice Springs Desert Park, a facility which blends plants, birds, animals and people from Australia’s arid regions into one, extraordinary tourism and conservation facility.

The Ghan Foyer of the Alice Springs Convention Centre provided the venue for the final conference networking reception after the conference close on the Tuesday evening.

Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference dines under the stars
As with the preceding conference, business sessions for the Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference were prefaced by a traditional Welcome to Country presentation provided by a local Aboriginal Elder.  The Welcome Reception was combined with a Poster Viewing Evening and was held in the Exhibition Hall of the Alice Springs Convention Centre.

The undoubted highlight of the AVHC social programme was the off-site dinner held on the Thursday evening at ‘The Quarry’, located at the foot of the East MacDonnell Ranges and just a short coach journey from the heart of town. This de-commissioned quarry borders historic ‘Undoolya’, one of the oldest working cattle stations in Central Australia.  The spectacular landscape comprises a natural dining amphitheatre overlooked by an impressive red rock escarpment, just perfect for a memorable conference dinner under a starlit outback sky.

The final social event of the conference had a typically-relaxed NT note with an informal barbecue around the elegant surrounds of the Lasseters resort-style swimming pool

Catering at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and The Quarry events was provided by the talented off-site catering team from the Alice Springs Convention Centre.

CSR and community engagement outcomes
Event organisers ensured there were multiple flow-on effects to the city, with local suppliers sourced in the majority of cases. These included but were not limited to:

-        Local handicraft suppliers providing speaker gifts and having a stall at the conference

-        Local healers who also established a stall at the conference

-        Aboriginal elders performing the traditional Welcome to the Country for each conference

-        Aboriginal dance performers

-        Local bands were sourced for all functions

-        Local  printers were utilised

The benefit to Alice Springs was significant due to delegate spending in hotels, retail and restaurants throughout the city.  Using the NT Convention Bureau’s average delegate expenditure figure of $4,711 per person, the Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference and the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitis jointly contributed over A$1.6 million to the Alice Springs regional community.

Challenges
Initially, some of the conference committee members had reservations regarding staging the conference in Alice Springs. It was perceived that the distance from major Australian capital cities and the cost of travel could potentially reduce delegate numbers. However, this was overcome by the conference organising team emphasising the very reasonable on-the-ground costs which made Alice Springs more than comparable on a cost basis to other cities.

What you liked about the destination
The conference organisers and delegates appreciated the relaxed environment in which they were able to meet.  The size of the Alice Springs Convention Centre was well suited to ensure that delegates were able to network effectively with each other.  Organised conference activities also enabled delegates to experience the local culture, landscape and food. 

OUTCOMES
A significant outcome arising from the Alice Springs conferences was theAnwernekenhe Consensus Statement which was signed at the Alice Springs Convention Centre on 16 September. This document not only acknowledges that viral hepatitis is an under-recognised health issue in global Indigenous communities but also presents a number of priority actions through which such issues should be addressed on an ongoing basis.

The conferences also provided a forum for the launch of a Hep B Story iPad and iPhone App. It is hoped that the distribution of this App may assist to raise awareness and address the prevalence and severity of Hepatitis B infections in remote Indigenous communities throughout Australia. 

The dinner held at the Quarry was deemed an incredible highlight for all attendees due to the amazing backdrop of the location and the Aboriginal culture showcased during the evening.  The local convenor felt great pride in what Alice Springs was able to produce during that event. 

Pre and post touring undertaken in the destination
Data is not available on the specific number of delegates who participated in touring but it is known that a number of people toured to Ayers Rock before and after the conferences.  Tours to local Aboriginal medical health centres were also undertaken during the conference.

The Verdict
“The conference on Hepatitis in Indigenous Populations was outstanding. It brought together participants from all over the world for a stimulating and productive meeting. The setting in Alice Springs was one of the highlights – Alice Springs is a great place to have conferences. The Conference Center was first rate, the accommodations were very nice and I enjoyed having bicycles available at the hotel to tour around the town. Coming to Alice Springs gave me a chance to spend an extra few days on a tour to a remarkable and stunning part of the world including hikes in the MacDonnell Mountains and a visit to Uluru and the surrounding region.”
Brian J McMahon, MD, MACP, FAASLD
Medical and Research Director, Liver Disease and Hepatitis Program
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Research Associated Arctic Investigations Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anchorage, Alaska

“The unanimous feedback of delegates I spoke to was that these conferences were unique. The setting really helped frame both conferences and spoke to the relevance of the topics under discussion here in Australia, as well as globally. The facilities at the conference centre were of a high standard, and holding the conferences in Alice Springs was a fantastic decision. People are still talking about these conferences and the impact they made.”
Dr Benjamin Cowie
Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) 
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

“The 9th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference and World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Viral Hepatitisheld at the Alice Springs Convention Centre were an outstanding success. The budgeted level of attendance was achieved and delegates were very happy with the networking that came from choosing a smaller regional centre, where they could network easier and see first-hand elements of the health response within Indigenous populations.

The conferences showcased not only a venue but also a destination, and the amazing location of Alice Springs which provided an incredible social event experience for all conference participants. The social event at The Quarry was the highlight of my career, where I saw the most incredible conference dinner location combined with the most impressive entertainment. It’s a conference that we won’t forget.”
Nicole Robertson
Conference Operations Manager
ASHM, Conference, Sponsorship and Events Division

“As Conference Convenor of the inaugural World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Viral Hepatitis (WIPC), I’m writing to personally express my sincerest thanks to Nicole Robertson and all of the ASHM Conference Division in their superb efforts in making the WIPC held in Alice Springs in September 2014, the superb and outstanding success it was. They managed to convene an international committee against the time lines of any normal conference and pull off undoubtedly one of the best Indigenous peoples conferences in health ever convened in Australia.”
James Ward
Head, Infectious Diseases Research Aboriginal Health
Infection and Immunity Theme, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

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