Innovation, Community & Political Leadership – 20th International AIDS Conference Kicks Off In Kigali

African leaders, scientists, and activists are mobilizing to address the scientific, political, and social challenges inherent to ending the HIV epidemic. That was the key message as the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) kicked off on Monday in Kigali, Rwanda under the theme, “AIDS-free Africa: Innovation, Community and Political Leadership.”

“HIV, Hepatitis B and syphilis are all endemic in Africa. All three can be maternally transmitted; are devastating; take a heavy toll on health systems, with catastrophic expenditures for families leading to poverty in our communities. And all three can be prevented,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the conference opening ceremony.

(back row, left-right) Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rwandan First Lady Jeannette Kagame WHO Director General Dr Tedros, and UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima along with other First Ladies of African States (first row) at the ICASA 2019 Opening Ceremony.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame added that AIDS is an “epidemic without borders.” In a brief opening statement, the president of the host country highlighted a number of key challenges that the HIV/AIDS response faces – themes around which the conference has organized.

When it comes to sexually-transmitted infections, Kagame said, stigma and silence “are the real killers, just as much as the underlying virus.”  Stigma discourages people with STIs, including people with HIV, from seeking life-saving care, he explained.

On the care provision side, sustained investment in strengthening health systems is needed to “win the fight” against HIV/AIDS, and “build the resilience required to handle other challenges down the line,” he said.

He stressed the importance of “good politics and good governance,” highlighting that governments in Africa must prioritize domestic financing for healthcare, investing in infrastructure, technology, and a highly-skilled medical and administrative workforce. Additionally, investment in community health workers can help build trust in the health system so that citizens will to “act on health guidelines from public institutions and change their behavior accordingly.”

The conference is organized along three thematic tracks that address the major opportunity areas for improving HIV/AIDS response. A scientific track features sessions that focus on tools for HIV prevention and treatments regimens, including topics such as “operationalizing the implementation of innovative biomedical prevention such as PrEP, microbicides, and long-acting antiretrovirals.”

A second track focuses on leadership and issues around the political mobilization required in the fight against HIV/AIDs, including sessions such as “Stronger positioning of women leadership in Africa in the HIV response.” A third stream focuses on community-based work in the HIV response, with sessions such as “accessing services for people living with disabilities.”

The six-day conference is co-sponsored by the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) and the Government of Rwanda, and runs from December 2-7. Co-organized by WHO, UNAIDS, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as the pharmaceutical companies Gilead and Mylan, it brings together thousands of delegates to share lessons learned and chart the way forward for reaching the 90-90-90 UNAIDS targets for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on the African continent. Those targets aim to ensure that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will be have the virus supressed.


Image Credits: Twitter: @DrTedros.

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