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Spike in Youth HIV/AIDS Cases Spooks Zimbabwe Ahead of Crucial Conference

Officials of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council (NAC) say they are overjoyed by the unexpected opportunity to host the 18th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA).

“This is something we have not thought about, not in our wildest dreams,” expressed NAC’s operations director, Raymond Yekeye.

The 2015 ICASA conference, being held under the theme, AIDS in Post 2015: Linking Leadership, Science & Human Rights, was originally scheduled to be held in Tunisia, before being switched to Zimbabwe.

According to the country’s state-controlled Herald newspaper, conference chair and President of the Society for AIDS in Africa, Dr. Ihab AbdelRhaman Ahmed, an epidemiologist, made the announcement in Harare on Tuesday after several meetings with stakeholders.

Yekeye said the conference will give Zimbabwe the opportunity to highlight the progress it has made as a country, to fight the pandemic.

“This conference actually provides us the opportunity to showcase the good work that we have done, as a country, but also as a region, and maybe also as a continent.”

NAC officials credit the government’s emphasis on prevention, for bringing down the prevalence rate, which currently stands at about 15%, according to NAC’s 2013 report on their website, with most of them on treatment.

“We have over 800,000 people currently accessing treatment, our HIV-prevalence has declined by more than half, 50%, and new infections have also continued to decline.”

Yekeye also stressed that the rate of new infections too has declined, but cautioned that the pace of decline is slower than in the past, and those who are getting infected, are the country’s young population.

“We are seeing kind of turbulence in new infections, which is a cause for concern. We are also worried about the age groups, especially new cases, in young people.”

The event will be held at the Harare International Conference Center from November 29 to December 4.