By Kefilwe Batsalelwang in Ethiopia
It’s been 30 years since the first case of AIDS was detected, and the The 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), discussed innovative ideas and strategies to tackle the disease among key affected populations. Based around the theme ‘Own, Scale-up and Sustain’, the conference takes place at a pivotal time, and urges African leaders, partners and the communities involved in prevention and treatment to support the most effective response to the global pandemic.
Welcoming nearly 10,000 delegates to the conference Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, said it was time for African countries to increase their efforts and build on the successes of the past; to turn the tide of the epidemic through greater containment and lower infections.
“This year’s theme is a particularly fitting one at this critical time,” he said. “Against the backdrop of growing global economic uncertainty, it is vital that African countries develop innovative and sustainable strategies for mobilizing new resources – human, intellectual and material – with a view to fortifying and sustaining our response to the epidemic over the coming years.” He said this was a unique opportunity to propse ‘African solutions’ to a worldwide problem.
A decade ago, HIV affected 12.4 per cent of those between the ages of 15 to 24 in Ethiopia. Today, this figure has stabilized at 2.4 per cent. In 2005, fewer than 1,000 people had access to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the country. Today 333,000 Ethiopians, or 66 per cent of those in need, are receiving ART. But while the gains are significant, prevention efforts must be intensified as this is the most effective way of halting and reversing the spread of the disease. Dr Michel Sidibe, from UNAIDS, said that with strengthened political will and increased resources, countries across the continent will reach the common goal of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.
At the opening of the conference Prof. Robert Soudre, President of the Society for AIDS, said Africa must prepare to harness new and emerging preventative and treatment strategies being investigated as well as adopt ‘test and treat’ strategies of HIV response.
While resources remain a challenge for the Red Cross Red Crescent family, National Societies from the Africa region met before the conference and agreed to develop specific, quality focused and high impact interventions targeting populations that are more at risk such as injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers.
Patrick Couteau, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "We need to understand the critical role of integrating HIV programmes in our Movement’s core mandates such as disaster and conflict, to enhance our visibility and marketability, and ultimately attract more resources for high impact interventions."
The conference also saw a keynote address by former President of the United States of America George W. Bush, who said that the world needed to unite and alleviate human suffering. He urged delegates to continue engaging in effective social mobilisation and community programmes in response to HIV and AIDS in their countries. President Bush recieved an outstanding leadership award for his support of the global HIV and AIDS response from Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopian Minister of Health.