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Notes on the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa

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PHOTO: ICASA RWANDA

Good politics and governance have everything to do with health – President Paul Kagame.

The 20th International Conference on AIDS and STIs on Africa commenced on Monday, the 2nd of December 2019 in Kigali, Rwanda. The official opening ceremony of the biggest conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa was a gathering which brought about 10, 000 delegates, had in attendance some African leaders like President Filipe Nyusi; the President of Mozambique; Director-General of World Health Organisation; several First Ladies of some African countries like Niger Republic, Botswana, Congo DR; Republic of Chad with the host, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

During the opening ceremony, Professor John Idoko; the President of ICASA (The International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections) stated that the 2019 United Nations report indicated that Africa has made huge progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths. He went further to posit that the HIV pandemic would still remain a global hurdle in the nearest future. Professor Idoko called on African Governments to seek homegrown solutions for a long-lasting and sustainable response against HIV/AIDS on the African Continent.

During the Rwanda’s Minister of Health’s speech; Doctor Diane Gashumba stated that Rwanda fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic has always been grounded in the principle that people affected should and must be the centre of the push. And that in collaboration with Rwandan partners, the country has been able to put the Rwandan people at the centre of each intervention that is being made in the health sector. The Health Minister concluded by stating Africa must continue to collaborate closely, and not rest until the African Continent has a generation without AIDS.

During his own speech; Director-General of World Health Organisation; Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commenced by stating that the choice of the theme “AIDS-free Africa” indicated how far Africa has come. And Rwanda is a perfect example. The Director-General of the WHO reeled out some statistics when he stated that ‘presently, over ninety percent of all people living with HIV in Rwanda know their status and almost all of them are on the life-saving treatment. Furthermore, he posited that amongst the ninety percent have achieved viral suppression. And this makes Rwanda one of the few countries to achieve the 90-90-90 targets prior to 2020. But the Director-General of WHO also stated that the gains made are under threat, with visible signs of declining funding and a shaky political commitment.

He furthered posited that the challenges can be surmounted by innovation, community (listen to what the communities need rather than dictate to them) and political leadership (the Rwandan kind of leadership with regards tackling AIDS/STIs is the type of leadership Africa needs).

And he concluded by saying that ‘the results Rwanda has achieved would not have been possible without President Paul Kagame’s vision and leadership, not only for HIV but for Health For All.

The President of Mozambique; President Felipe Nyusi: Posited that by hosting the ICASA event; Rwanda conveyed a crystal-clear message on the need to gather efforts to eradicate the AIDS scourge in the health sector on the African Continent which can undermine the dreams of a prosperous Africa. President Nyusi also stated that the delegates were in Kigali to reaffirm the determination of African Governments to combat HIV/AIDS epidemic.

During President Paul Kagame’s speech; he begun by stating that the delegates were here to share experience and knowledge but also to deepen our collective solidarity to fight the devastating epidemic together. And the President of Rwanda recalled some key factors for the success in fighting HIV/AIDS, highlighting the fact that open dialogue saves lives. When it comes to Sexually Transmitted Infections, stigma and silence are real killers just as much as the underlying viruses. President Kagame went further to state that shame discourages people living with HIV from learning and accepting their status and accessing the health-care needed to live a full life. ICASA exists in order to break down the taboos that impede prevention and early treatment.

The President also opined that AIDS is an epidemic without borders. Much of the success in the campaign to halt the spread of the virus can be credited to global cooperation. It is therefore vital to continue raising the level of support to initiatives such as The Global Fund Gavi and PEPFAR which have made such significant contributions. Governments in Africa must prioritize domestic financing for healthcare.
The third salient point President Kagame made was that strong national health systems are the right strategy for managing current and future health threats. Good politics and Governance have everything to do with health. There is no substitute for building an inclusive, caring society.

The following days had interesting sessions like Leaving no one behind: accelerating the HIV/AIDS response in West and Central Africa; what is new in HIV Prevention? Effective Partnership for cervical cancer prevention? Health financing. How to adopt and implement WHO-recommended HIV testing strategies and transform your HIV programme for 2020; Missing Technology to Improve Prevention, Access and Monitoring of the HIV Response; World Council of Churches: Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance: Testing and Linkage to Prevention and Treatment Services.

In her closing remarks, Dr Diane Gashumba; the health minister of Rwanda said that during the beginning of the conference, three main pillars were identified: innovation, community and political leadership. She stated that Africa must continue to explore the interconnections between HIV/AIDS with broader health and development agenda. If we do not see health as an investment, we will never achieve sustainable growth, development, advances in research, or an end to global disease burdens. Communities must remain at the centre of the HIV response for prevention, treatment, access to health care services, and most importantly to have their voices heard.
The health minister went further to posit that Africa can not rest until more progress is made and must continue to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable. Speaking further, Dr Diane Gashumba stated that the HIV epidemic remains unacceptably high among adolescent girls and young women in Africa.

Girls remain one of the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV/AIDS, and they are twice as likely to be living with HIV than young men. Women remain disproportionately affected by the burden of disease and we must accelerate prevention methods, access to contraception and continue innovation in cervical cancer testing and treatment.

One of the highlights for me was listening to HIV Positive people talking about themselves and issues they have to surmount daily. This was my first time seeing HIV Positive people and I was richly educated by several sessions and a one on one encounter with the Kenyan lady Doreen Moraa Moracha; an HIV Positive advocate. The International Conference for AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) recorded 8, 522 delegates from about 152 countries.


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