As the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa draws to a close today, KC Chineduari from Zambia gives her personal reflections
The 16th International Conference on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Africa (ICASA) has really given me food for thought. The conference held in the cradle of mankind Ethiopia drew participants from all over the world.
I was very excited because notable among the dignitaries was the former United States President, George Bush whose speech I found so inspiring.
Listening to the various presentations and this year’s theme, Time for Africa to own, scale-up and sustain HIV funding, is indeed a wake-up call for Africa.
At the Meet the United Nations Leaders: Getting to zero session, Michel Sidibe, the UNAIDS Executive Director, emphasized that getting to zero was a way of making sure that distribution of resources and access to services was equal. He said we need to change the way we do business in Africa; we should not think about money only as we would net get to zero. Mr Sidibe urged the response in Africa to decentralize as the real solutions are at community level. He also said the solution lies in innovation and health systems.
Elhadj As-Sy of UNICEF said it is in the very communities where discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV exists that the poorest of the poor share their last penny to care for their loved ones. From UNICEF’s perspective, getting to zero new HIV infections can only be done with the support of the communities.
The challenge is how best to implement this strategy. Partnerships begin in the bedroom and therefore women should be protected. The next generation will depend on our partnerships if we are to have an HIV free generation.
The big question is, are our African government ready to face the challenge of providing treatment for the masses? African leaders signed the Abuja Declaration in April 2001, committing 15% of resources to their health budgets, but so far very few countries have managed to honor that promise. Globally the number of people seeking treatment each day is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa.
Aid effectiveness is about ensuring maximum impact of development aid to improve the lives of people by halving poverty. Over the years there has been a decline in donor funding. The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness included the themes of ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for results and mutual accountability.
Looking at Zambia, the budget for 2012 has already been approved and I hope to see efforts being put into ensuring people remain on treatment, especially those already on ART. The tricky part is the issue of new infections, will these wait till 2014? Definitely, not. We do not want to see the 1990s scenario come back otherwise the fight would be lost and the slogan Getting to zero will become an illusion.
When it comes to ‘owning’ the HIV response there is much Africans have done but challenges remain. One of my expectations of ICASA was to learn how involved African scientists have been in research around an AIDS vaccine. It is clear in this field there is much to do.
When it come s to owning the response, people living with HIV must play a significant role. I was disappointed that the plenary sessions did not give a platform to spokespeople from people living with HIV networks. That this voice was missing from crucial debates was a pity. I would have especially liked to have seen people living with HIV given the floor at leadership sessions discussing the Global Fund and funding crisis.
That said I have learnt a lot from ICASA. As the delegates, activists, media and participants begin to go back to their countries, the battle against zero discrimination, zero new infections and zero deaths, and reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seems to have only just begun. Getting to zero and the MDGs will only be achieved by involving everyone in society – the grassroots up to the policy makers. Personally, as a Key Correspondent and an outreach worker, I will do my bit to make sure communities are well informed.