International AIDS conference opens in Zimbabwe
HARARE – The 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) opened Sunday in the Zimbabwean capital where countries took stock of the achievements and challenges they have encountered in response to HIV and AIDS over the past decades.
The six-day conference, under the theme of “AIDS in Post 2015 Era: Linking Leadership, Science and Human Rights”, brings together more than 5,000 delegates from around the world including the world’s leading scientists, policy makers, activists, people living with HIV and government leaders.
In his welcoming remarks, Zimbabwean Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said the key messages sent by the conference were that Africa had made progress in combating HIV and AIDS, and the world including Africa could end the epidemic by 2030.
He said the facts that the deadly disease was claiming fewer lives and fewer people acquired HIV makes ending the epidemic by 2030 a realistic prospect.
Another message of the conference is that Africa, the continent worst affected by HIV, must fight complacency and renew its commitment to increasing funding for the fight against the epidemic, he said.
Zimbabwean Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the theme of the conference that links leadership, science and human rights was appropriate in ensuring that Africa wins the war against HIV and AIDS.
“Clearly science, leadership, and human rights taken separately and exclusively can not win the war against HIV and STIs(Sexually Transmitted Infections), hence there must be harmony and synergy in the fight against this epidemic which has ravaged our great continent,” he said.
He called for concerted efforts by all relevant institutions and partners in ensuring effective collaboration in Africa’s quest to achieve universal health coverage including free access to HIV prevention, care and treatment.
Africa, he said, continued to bear the brunt of HIV in the world with 25.8 million of people on the continent living with HIV, which translates to 70 percent of the global HIV burden.
He also urged the continent not to be complacent about the achievements made so far, saying the war against HIV was not over yet.
UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Leila Pakkala said while progress had been made, a lot more efforts are needed to increase the percentage of HIV positive people in Africa who are getting treatment, currently at 41 percent.
Noting that Africa had made strides in reducing HIV transmission from mother to child, Pakkala called for more efforts to reach the goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission.
She said since 2000, more than 1.3 million new infections among children had been averted through prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs in Africa, and the transmission rate fell from 38 percent to 15 percent.
Meanwhile, at least 30 million HIV infections had also been averted and 8 million people who could have died had survived due to increased access to treatment, she added.
“We can confidently say the progress in the response to HIV is one of the great success stories of the Millennium Development Goals,” she said.
With the correlation among AIDS, productivity and poverty clearly evident, an effective AIDS response was therefore crucial to underpinning and ensuring sustainable development in Africa, she said. Xinhua