Addis Ababa, December 6, 2011 – The third day of the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2011 called for increased partnerships, in particular to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and to bring women's health needs to the forefront of the struggle toward an AIDS-free world.
Today's conference kicked off with the daily Plenary Session which focused on health system strengthening, the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and the combination prevention approach in the response to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
Speakers in the plenary praised African countries for reaching high coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage for expecting mothers. "Mother-to-child transmission has to be contextualized within the constraints of maternal health," according to Senior Program Advisor for HIV at UNICEF. "And we need to redouble our efforts in family planning."
Although some African countries continue at less than 30 percent coverage of ART for pregnant women, countries like South Africa can rejoice in achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT, according to Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of UNAIDS Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa. "The next challenge is to reach the poorest women and link facilities to the most deprived communities," she said, citing geographical coverage as one of the main components of achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT.
The highlight of the plenary session was the impassioned remarks made by Stephen Lewis, co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World, who fervently reminded the packed audience of the need to focus on women and prevention of MTCT, and urged them to use 'treatment as preventions', an approach which was first expanded five years ago, and tailored country-specific HIV responses to individual epidemics.
Mr. Lewis then condemned the Global Fund and donor countries for their "betrayal", pointing out the moral implications of the decision to reduce funding and challenging the "artificial debate on dependency" stating that donor countries have "ransacked" the African continent for six hundred years, and thus, "have no right to withdraw."
Throughout the day, almost sixty-five sessions of varying types occurred, including the plenary session, special and ministerial sessions, oral abstract presentations, oral poster discussions, non-abstract driven sessions, and workshops for community, leadership and professional skill building. Sessions were facilitated in both English and French, with simultaneous translations, and included fifteen satellite meetings.
ICASA's third day of sessions promoted partnerships to increase the impact of HIV/AIDS services. Session topics dealt with broadening HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support, and increasing human rights for vulnerable populations such as orphans, young people, people with disability, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), sex workers, and substance abusers; male circumcision for HIV prevention; services specifically for women including PMTCT, reproductive health, and family planning; comprehensive clinical care, initiation of ART, retention in care and treatment services, and laboratory procedures; engaging civil society organizations, corporate responsibility, religious leaders' responsibility to own and sustain the HIV response, and public-private partnerships; HIV science updates including research, immunology, opportunistic infections, and the evolution and diversity of HIV; and a ministerial panel on health and social affairs.
The conference also included a poster exhibition, which displayed abstracts as posters focusing on many pertinent themes including prevention of MTCT.
International press participated in three press conferences which highlighted funding efforts to sustain and scale-up the HIV/AIDS response, the use of public-private partnerships to finance African countries' unique health development agendas, and challenges regarding access to reproductive health commodity supplies.
ICASA 2011 will continue to offer sessions, workshops, and exhibitions at Millennium Hall through Thursday, December 8th.