The 18th edition of ICASA, the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), has started in Harare, where the World Health Organization tabled new Anti Retroviral Therapy guidelines, designed to help the countries meet the ambitious 90-90-90 treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic target by 2020.
The new guidelines state that ART should be initiated in everyone living with HIV regardless of the CD4 count or showing symptoms of being infected.
Addressing delegates at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa 2015, World Health Organisation Africa Regional Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, says this is based on evidence from clinical trials showing that earlier use of ART, results in better clinical outcomes for people living with HIV compared with delayed treatment, which is key in meeting the target of 90% knowing their HIV status, 90% on treatment and 90% with viral load suppression by 2020.
This, she says, has implications on expenditure on HIV, since it will mean doubling the number of people on ART on the continent.
“We do acknowledge that we still have much to do and significant gaps remain in what we are achieving. For example, 52% of people living with HIV know their status and the coverage of treatment only remains at 41%, only 30% of children in need are receiving HIV treatment. There are still more than one million new infections of HIV in Africa every year.”
Africa is faced with a challenge of excluding key populations such as adolescents, prisoners, gays, and sex workers who find themselves without necessary interventions in preventing HIV.
Zimbabwe Health and Child Care minister, Dr. David Parirenyatwa, says the post 2015 agenda of a human rights approach to HIV, makes it imperative that these populations are integrated into programming.
“We haven’t done enough, we think we have but we haven’t. Yes, we have disseminated information but if you go to growth points now, it’s still a challenge. People who sell sex, don’t arrest them. That’s not the answer. The correctional services where men are having sex with men. To me, it’s a key population. Those are what we should be looking at. Those are the areas, I think, that we need to look at and be able to address in an open manner.”
ICASA 2015 was officially opened by vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, amid concerns that delegates representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are being marginalised.
This follows reports that the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights delegation, had its workshop material seized at the Harare International Airport as well as its exhibition stand temporarily pulled down.
Addressing delegates in his speech, Mnangagwa did not allay these fears, saying Africa should not be expected to embrace practices foreign to its culture under the guise of human rights.
“There is a strong correlation between STIs and HIV infection rate, ICASA thus provides a platform for dialogue and knowledge sharing on HIV/AIDs and STIs, albeit in our unique African socio cultural and economic settings. As espoused by his excellency, the president of our republic, we equally reject attempts to prescribe new rights that are contrary to our norms, values and beliefs.”
ICASA 2015 which is running under the theme, ‘AIDS in Post 2015 Era, Linking Leadership, Science and Human Rights’, ends on Friday the 4th.
Upcoming discussions at the conference include the ‘Security of ARVs and other essential health commodities in Africa - the role of the Regional Economic Communities and ECOWAS Regional Pharmaceutical Plan’ tomorrow and ‘Molecular Technologies including Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) and Viral Load Testing Services for HIV in Africa on Wednesday.
Zimbabwe’s Tumbuka dance group, Mokoomba and children’s rights group, Zvandiri, are the voices behind the ICASA 2015 official theme song which was presented at the official opening.