Addis Ababa, December 5, 2011 – The first full day at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2011 celebrated under the theme ‘Own, Scale-up, & Sustain’ left many participants wondering ‘where’s the money for HIV and AIDS?’. ICASA 2011 sessions and events centered on the shared responsibility to expand the response to HIV/AIDS in Africa, while speaker and participant discussions inevitably focused on how to increase the momentum in light of the global financial crisis.
Today’s conference kicked off with a Plenary Session which highlighted African leaders’ past efforts and future responsibilities to own and sustain the HIV response. Speakers emphasized the importance of reducing dependence on donor funding, and encouraged African governments to fill the funding gap and increase sustainable county-led interventions.
Throughout the day, almost fifty sessions were held on topics ranging from prevention and access to services for highly vulnerable populations, reducing the stigma and promoting livelihoods for people living with the virus, the legal environment and legal services for HIV response antiretroviral and other treatment, detection and surveillance, gender and the HIV response, working towards an HIV-free generation, management of HIV/TB and other co-infections, health system strengthening for increased integration, and monitoring and evaluation. Numerous evening satellite meetings also occurred. Sessions and workshops were facilitated in both English and French, with simultaneous translations.
Although all sessions have been aligned with the conference theme by highlighting country and community ownership, and the sustainability of interventions, concerns of the global financial crisis’ impact on services dominated discussions. Special sessions were held on cost efficiency and effectiveness, and finance and the economy including a special ministerial panel discussion on funding with key speakers from the Global Fund, UNAIDS, U.S. Global AIDS coordination office, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.
Hands-on workshops provided participants the skill and knowledge of writing and submitting conference abstracts, measuring community care of families affected by HIV, relevance of HIV legal services, using technology, leadership skills, media and reporting, engaging traditional leadership, and workplace HIV prevention programs.
The conference also included poster exhibition, which focused on the gender dynamics in HIV/AIDS programs, the role of condoms in prevention, mortality due to treatment failure, and challenges regarding tuberculosis and HIV co-infection.
ICASA 2011 hosted a plethora of international press, which engaged in three-party press conferences, interviews of speakers, and worked in a fully functional media center with high-speed Internet.
However, the highlight of the day was the First Ladies’ Panel which brought together First Ladies from Namibia, and representatives of Rwanda, Chad and Ethiopian. The session discussed the efforts made and the leadership provided by First Ladies towards achieving an HIV free generation and provided the First Ladies with the opportunity to detail the next steps to enhancing commitment and action.
This commitment is essential considering the Global Fund’s recent announcement of limited funding. “The Global Fund announcement is a wake-up call,” according to the director of UNAIDS, Dr. Meskerem Grumitzk Bekele. “Donors have not made a commitment and African leaders have not stepped up with the promised 15% of the budget. Let’s review our priorities.” Dr. Beleke also noted the need to “transfer capacity and competence to Africans.”
To build this competence, ICASA 2011 will continue to offer sessions, workshops, and exhibitions at Millennium Hall through Thursday, December 8th.