The Malta Coeliac Association hosted the 16th annual AOECS conference from the 6th to 8th September 2002 at the Westin Dragonara Resort, St Julian’s.
Founded in 1988, the Association of European Coeliac Societies brings together 21 coeliac societies from 18 European countries, and aims to review issues of international importance, co-ordinate international activities and matters of common interest, and exchange information among its members. It is chaired by a board of three directors.
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease sufferers and AOECS is working hard to improve labelling directives on packaging to make life easier for coeliacs.
Around 80 delegates, including delegations from the member societies and representatives of European gluten-free products manufacturers, were in Malta for the conference. The manufacturers also put up a two-day exhibition of the latest products on the market at the Westin’s conference centre.
The programme of the three-day conference included meetings of the various Working Groups who focus on specific areas and report to the AOECS board, and meetings for delegates from the various countries. Manufacturers’ representatives were also invited to attend some of the meetings. The AOECS’ Youth Group also held their own meetings and later gave a presentation at the AOECS General Assembly on the last day.
Members were told of the Finnish Coeliac Society’s findings during a two-year nationwide healthcare project aimed at raising awareness of coeliac disease and diagnosing new sufferers. The Italian Coeliac Society gave a presentation on a recently organised march for coeliac disease to mark International Coeliac Day, while Coeliac UK reported on the progress of its efforts to license the gluten-free symbol on packaging.
Mrs Mary Rose Caruana, head of the organising committee, was a candidate for the election of a new board member, but the post went to Mr Andrew Ladds of Coeliac UK who received eleven votes to Mrs Caruana’s seven.
At the end of the conference, the AOECS board members and the delegates heaped praise on the Coeliac Association Malta, whose president is Mrs Carole Pace Balzan, for organising a successful event and for being excellent hosts.
With just over 200 members, the local coeliac association is one of Europe’s smallest, but it showed its huge commitment to AOECS by leaving no stone unturned to make the delegates’ stay in Malta memorable.
During the last session of the conference, members of the Association were invited to visit the Exhibition Hall where there was a varied display of gluten free food items exhibited by the various suppliers. They also had the opportunity to sample some of the products some of which were also distributed to them free of charge.