By: Attah-Effah Badu
The largest gathering on HIV and AIDS, and Sexually transmitted infections, in Africa has
officially commenced in Harare, Zimbabwe, under the theme; HIV/AIDS in Post 2015 Era: Linking Leadership, Science & Human Rights.
Christened the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA 2015), the summit, being attended by about 5000 delegates is to showcase new research findings, and strategies towards achieving the global target of ending the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030.
Delegates attending the conference comprise of renowned researchers, leaders, civil societies, Persons Living With HIV; policy makers, health experts; activists and other key stakeholders across the continent.
The conference, being organised by the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) is from 29th November – 4th December 2015. A bout a thousand research findings on HIV and AIDS and STIs are to be presented during the course of the conference.
A key objective of the biennial conference is to promote the development and scale up of evidence-based interventions for HIV and AIDS, and associate diseases in the post 2015 era.
Importantly, it is to strengthen the interaction between the public health, science and human right approaches in the control and elimination of the HIV/AIDS and associate diseases.
Opening ICASA 2015, at the Rainbow Towers Hotel, in Harare, the Vice President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, called on African countries to reinforce their commitments towards making Africa an AIDS-free continent.
Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa, commended African leaders and stakeholders for some key milestones achieved in the AIDS response, urging them to work towards meeting the UNAIDS 2020 goal of having 90% of all people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, with 90% of them having access to treatment, as well as 90% of people on HIV treatment achieving viral suppression.
For Ghana, and the rest of Africa, the conference provides a stage for the exchange of knowledge, skills, and best practices towards this target.
The Ghanaian delegation, including the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission, Dr. Angela El-Adas, some commissioners, and resource persons, will have over a dozen presentations during conference. The team will host a satellite session on stigma and discrimination, and also share with the rest of Africa, the successes in its national response.
The 2014 HIV Sentinel Survey (HSS) report reveals that the number of new HIV infections in Ghana has reduced from 13,272 in 2011 to 11,356 in 2014.
Ghana has rapidly scaled up its Antiretroviral therapy (ART) program by increasing the number of ART sites from 79 in 2010 to 179 in 2014.
Statistics from 2011 to 2014 indicated that, owing to key strategies and activities outlined by the Ghana AIDS Commission, more pregnant women are getting tested at early stages to ensure that actions are taken to prevent those positive from passing on the virus to their unborn babies.
The Ghanaian delegationincludes; Nana OyeLithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection Hon. Abdul Rashid Pelpuo ; Member of Parliament for Wa Central, and Minister of State, Private Sector Development .
Others are; Mrs. DzifaAblaGomashie-Ahiaglo, Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts; and Ms Mavis AmaFrimpong, the Deputy Eastern Regional Minister.
Meanwhile Ghana has put in a bid to host the next edition of the conference in 2017. Ghana will compete with other African countries to host what has become the largest gathering on HIV and AIDS and STI’s in Africa over the years. The hosts for the 19th ICASA will be announced by SAA’s Council members in April 2016. Cape Town, South Africa, hosted the 17th edition of the conference in 2013.
ICASA 2015 is co-chaired by Dr Ihab Abdel Rhaman Ahmed, President of the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA), and Dr.Pagwesese David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe's Health and Child care Minister.
Present at the opening ceremony of the week-long conference were ; Mr Michel Sidibé the Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti , WHO Regional Director for Africa.
UNAIDS estimates there were 1.4 million new HIV infections in 2014, in sub-Saharan Africa, a drop of 41% since 2000.
Currently there are about 11 million people in Africa receiving HIV treatment, a massive rise from the about 11, 000 persons who were on HIV treatment 15 years ago.