Icasa conference begins

HARARE - The 18th International Conference on Aids in Africa (Icasa) opened in the Zimbabwean capital Harare yesterday, against the backdrop of fears of further cutbacks by international donors in funding to fight the disease.

Around 7 000 delegates are attending the five-day conference, which is to be made up of more than 1 000 sessions under the theme “Aids in Post-2015 Era: Linking Leadership, Science and Human Rights.”

Around 68 percent of the 34 million people who are infected with the Aids virus worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Health experts say Zimbabwe’s  health institutions should fully capitalise on the 18th edition of the Icasa being held at the Harare International Conference Centre which provides an excellent opportunity to promote inter-sectoral achievements in the HIV/Aids response and to strengthen the partnership with other governments, civil society, and development partners.

Funded mainly by the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe (Nac through the Aids Levy, Icasa 2015 will host renowned researchers, policy makers, programmers, activists, and young people.

It is expected to draw delegates from nearly 150 countries including over 200 journalists while a total of 14 health ministers from the region are expected to present papers during the conference.

Dr Ihab Abdel Rhaman Ahmed, an epidemiologist and president of the Society for Aids in Africa (SAA) who is also Icasa 2015 president, said recent reports indicate that between year 2000 and 2014, new HIV infections dropped from 3,1 million to 2 million, a reduction of 35 percent.

As in 2014, 83 countries, which account for 83 percent of all people living with HIV, have halted or reversed their epidemics, including countries with major epidemics, such as India, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

With 15 million people on HIV/Aids treatment, according to executive director of UNAids Michel Sidibé, these are “15 million success stories yet 15 years ago there was a conspiracy of silence.”

“Aids was a disease of the ‘others’ and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor. We proved them wrong.”

The conference will seek ways of increasing investments in the Aids response in order to pave way for an envisaged Aids-free generation. 

Experts said health institutions and those within the profession should utilise the vast expertise at the 18th Icasa conference.

The conference will take stock of the gains made, showcase groundbreaking research, and develop strategies to achieving set targets.

Zimbabwe has seen a sharp reduction of both HIV incidence and prevalence and is looking at ways to scale up access to treatment under difficult conditions and mobilising domestic financing for HIV through the Aids Levy, which has now been recorded and shared as an international best practice.

Icasa will provide a unique platform for researchers from all around the globe to share latest scientific advances in the field, learn from others’ experiences and develop strategies for facets of a collective effort to prevent and treat HIV.

World-renowned medical expert and leader in the field of HIV and Aids, US Ambassador-at-Large, Deborah L. Birx, the coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV and Aids and US special representative for Global Health Diplomacy, will also be in attendance.

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