ISMRM changes date but holds firm on location for annual meeting

May 14, 2003

Toronto offers best chance to minimize disruptionThe annual meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine is on again. And, as before, it is scheduled for Toronto.By the opening days-July 10 for the

Toronto offers best chance to minimize disruption

The annual meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine is on again. And, as before, it is scheduled for Toronto.

By the opening days-July 10 for the educational program and July 12 for the scientific program and exhibitors-the danger from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Toronto will be over, meeting organizers hope. If not, the meeting is off for this year.

The all-or-nothing plan for Toronto in mid-July is a matter of logistics, according to Jane Tiemann, ISMRM executive director. If July doesn't work out, the next opening would be in September, weeks before the society's deadlines for receiving abstracts for presentations at its spring 2004 meeting.

"It would just be getting too close," Tiemann said.

Given continuing concerns about SARS in Toronto, rescheduling the meeting there might seem like a gamble. But the society's board of trustees, which voted to keep the meeting there, considers it a gamble worth taking.

Before the SARS scare led the society to cancel its original plans, the ISMRM scientific program committee and the central office had put in place all the pieces of its scientific, education, business, and social events. The initial program, now serving as a template for July events, could just as easily have been dropped into place in another city, Tiemann said. But logistical considerations made it desirable to stay in Toronto.

"We were worried that trying to find a new city-trying to assess availability and space within such a short time-would have been difficult," she said. "Since the option of Toronto seemed viable, it seemed the best way to go."

Planners worried that if SARS were not under control by mid-July in Toronto, they might not find any place safe from the disease. Toronto could even have an advantage in that local health officials had launched a substantial effort to rein in the disease. This effort seemed to be having an effect: In the days following ISMRM's decision to stick with Toronto, a senior World Health Organization official publicly stated that the SARS outbreak in Toronto had been "contained."

The decision by WHO to issue a travel advisory April 24 to avoid Toronto, if possible, was ill conceived from the start, according to Canadian politicians and health officials. The city's mayor pleaded on television for conventioneers to dismiss concerns about SARS, saying that if it's safe for people to live in Toronto, it's safe for others to visit. The political pressure brought to bear was intense and successful. WHO had planned to reassess the situation in three weeks. But officials canceled the advisory only days after issuing it.

ISMRM officials expect some fallout from cancellation of the original meeting. Some invited speakers and presenters probably will not be available due to prior commitments. The program will be adapted to fit these realities, Tiemann said. Coauthors may take the place of primary presenters. Alternate speakers will be invited to fill other gaps.

ISMRM executives hope that the SARS scare and change of the meeting date will have a negligible effect on attendance. Airlines are doing their best to cooperate. Flights booked for the mid-May meeting could be rescheduled at little or no extra cost. Air Canada, for example, decided to waive its usual fees for changing flights, if changes were made before the original date of departure.

Even though this year's meeting is still two months away, ISMRM will soon be looking ahead to the next, which will be held in Kyoto, Japan. The island nation so far has remained surprisingly free of SARS, considering its proximity to China, the original site of the disease. Tiemann hopes it stays that way.

"We're just going to assume that next year's meeting will work out," she said.