Zimbabwe on Tuesday joined the international community in marking World AIDS Day with events at the on-going International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA) shifting focus to infants and adolescents in line with the theme of getting to zero new infections.
On Wednesday delegates agreed there's an urgent need to influence targeted HIV prevention among vulnerable populations to make the dialogue all-inclusive if the world is to achieve the ambitious 90-90-90 target to help end the AIDS epidemic.
The World Health Organization marked World AIDS Day with its representatives in Harare emphasizing the need to expand antiretroviral therapy to all those living with HIV, especially reaching out to adolescents who may not know that they are living with the killer virus.
The U.N. health agency says about 16 million of the 37 million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are currently taking the combination of drugs and that universal use is the way to end the AIDS epidemic within a generation.
The World Health Organization cited studies that show people who start the treatment shortly after acquiring the virus are less likely to transmit it to others while staying healthier themselves.
As a result, the WHO is calling for more testing so that people know their HIV status and earlier treatments for those who test positive. It says universal antiretroviral treatment could prevent 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.
At the on-going ICASA conference, Angela Makamure from Harare, said the conference has brought different people, different countries and cultures to Zimbabwe thereby benefiting economically as well and also exchanging ideas on HIV, TB.
Makamure said, “As an individual I didn't know a lot of things about HIV/AIDS so I have been to different sessions, the 90 90 for the UNAIDS, I now understand what it isI have learnt a lot, there are so many organisations that are working with people living with HIV and there are bringing awareness to people so that people may not fear or feel written of because they are living with HIV. They have got a life to live. They are giving hope to people.”
A Zimbabwean Film maker, Collen Magobeya says the ICASA conference is such an eye opener for those living and working with people living with the HIV virus.
“This is my first experience of ICASA and I find it so fascinating and so educating because I have a chance to go round, network, and visit the stands where people are displaying different items which have to do with HIV and STIs.
“One thing that interested me was a where we have a key population, its surprising, in fact its something that is not usual to see in Zimbabwe to find people who are interested in other people of the same sex freely walking around and displaying their affection. And also we have sex workers. We need to start respecting people no matter their sexuality or their sexual orientation.”
Bidia Deperthese, the UNFPA senior Technical Advisor HIV said the conference had provided a platform for Africans to learn more on HIV/AIDS. She told Studio7 that it was important to address the issue of sex work as the fight against HIV/AIDS gathers momentum.
“Yesterday we spent an hour with about 10 sex workers and the topic was “sex workers is what I do but its not who I am. Sex workers are also in the Bible. When they brought a sex worker to Jesus what did he do.”
He had compassion on the woman. He never condemned her. We have to be compassionate. Behind the sex work that they do there is a story. Because they are human beings we have to love them, we have to respect them. We have been forgiven we have to forgive. We must not judge.
A representative from GALZ who requested anonymity said it has been great that the ICASA conference is being held in the country with people going to their stand to get information.
“People have been coming out and we have talking to them about what GALZ stands for. It’s really helpful for us to sensitise the community. Some have been afraid maybe because the police are around. ICASA has helped our community LGB … to know more about HIV. I would say it’s a space which has made us visible.”
A Harare resident, Liniah Mugwagwa said ICASA, however, is charging too much money, pricing the ordinary people out of the conference. He said it would have been great to have more ordinary people going to the conference venue rather than watching proceedings on television.
“The money they charged is too high. We cannot afford it so we are just walking around. There is nothing we can do.”
Of the 37 million people with the virus, 26 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 70 percent of new HIV infections.
World AIDS Day has been held on the first of December every year since 1988 as an occasion to show support for those living with HIV/AIDS, remember those who have died and focus on fighting the epidemic.