Addis Ababa, December 7, 2011 – The fourth day of the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2011 highlighted scientific advancements in HIV, particularly in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), laboratory science, and opportunistic infections management.
The daily plenary session focused on addressing HIV vulnerability of women, children and youth, and reproductive health and HIV among youth. To promote scientific advancements during the plenary, Professors David Serwadda from Makerere University and Harvard's Phyllis Kanki gave presentations on treatment as prevention and the current state of antiretroviral treatment in Africa.
Since the late 1990s, researchers have known that when the virus is treated early with antiretroviral therapy (ART), transmission rates can be reduced by 30 to 90 percent. "But the consistent use of effective ART is critical to suppress viral loads and thus to the reduction of transmission," according to Serwadda.
While ART was out of reach for Africa ten years ago, the prices of ARV drugs have fallen, making life-long treatment a real possibility for many. There are currently five million people in Africa on ART – this treatment has decreased mortality.
"In Africa we have a shallow pharmacy and that increases pressure to provide the best treatment with limited choices. At the moment absolutely no third-line choices exist in Africa for people living with HIV," Kanki said.
In addition, ART coverage for African children is lacking – only Botswana has ART coverage above 90 percent for adults and children. The best way to ensure ART retention is through care, education, family involvement and community support, according to Kanki.
In addition to the plenary session, over sixty-five sessions took place, many of which promoted scientific advancements. Topics dealt with adverse effects and failure of ART; drug resistance; HIV and bio-medical research; TB and HIV co-infection; vaccination and serological memory; HIV monitoring and diagnostic assays; and new World Health Organization (WHO) evidence-based guidelines on Cryptococcus, the deadliest opportunistic infection for people living with HIV in Africa.
Sessions also focused on the role of the community and country; leadership, policy and planning; stigma; people with disabilities; vulnerable populations and social services; financing; the diaspora perspective of HIV in Africa; the role of the media; health system strengthening; and integration of HIV and reproductive health.
Workshops provided knowledge on HIV in prisons; communities of practice; planning, monitoring and evaluation; writing and submitting abstracts; accountability of social systems; reaching most at-risk populations; voices of young people; involving faith communities to respond to sexual violence and HIV; the positive deviance approach; rights of people living with HIV; evaluating behavioral prevention interventions; and school-based sexuality education. The highlight of the day was a workshop on laboratory strengthening through WHO's 'Step-wise Laboratory Improvement Process towards Accreditation'.
The conference's poster exhibition continued to display pertinent scientific advancements and led to oral discussion sessions on stigma, multiple concurrent partnerships, and health systems.
As ICASA participants continue to call on governments worldwide to intensify the HIV response based on new science and proven interventions, which make ending AIDS a possibility, Ethiopia is showing promising steps in the right direction.
Responding to the Emergency Plan, the National Network of Positive Women Ethiopians said, "We welcome Ethiopia's new plan for ending vertical transmission of HIV and the Minister of Health's recognition of how women's groups have helped to ensure that more women are using services – from HIV to antenatal care. The next step is to involve women's groups more fully in designing a program that better responds to the needs of the community and meets the goals that Ethiopia has set itself."
In another development, the Oromia Network of People living with HIV/AIDS presented a check for a total of 30,000 birr, to H.E. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Minister of Health. The contribution will go towards the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, a hydroelectric power generating project, estimated to cost 4.8 billion US dollars.
ICASA 2011 will continue to offer sessions, workshops, and exhibitions highlighting new scientific advancements at Millennium Hall through Thursday, December 8th.