ICASA 2011, Africa's largest conference on HIV/AIDS, brought together more than 10,000 participants from 103 countries, including scientists, health workers, people living with HIV, policy makers, civil society and non-governmental organizations, activists and government representatives to share and learn about successes, challenges and innovations in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS on the continent. Professionals networked, shared experiences and developed their skills and knowledge.
However, underlying the encouraging atmosphere, participants, presenters and conference organizers shared concerns about recent announcements regarding cuts in much needed life-saving funding for HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The financial blow of the Global Fund, which suspended normal disbursements until 2014, comes at the worst moment – when the use of antiretroviral drugs for treatment and prevention has dramatically reduced mortality from the virus and reduce transmission of AIDS.
Throughout the five days of ICASA 2011, over two hundred and twenty sessions took place, including sixteen plenary speeches, over fifty satellite symposia, the opening ceremony which welcomed Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, former US President George W. Bush, UNAIDS Executive General Dr. Michel Sidibé, and the Society for AIDS in Africa President Prof. Robert Soudre, and ICASA 2011 Dr. Yigeremu Abebe, and today's closing ceremony.
In addition to the above sessions, there were seven special sessions, fifty-two oral abstract presentations, twelve oral poster discussions, thirty-seven non-abstract driven sessions, seven late breaker abstract sessions and forty-two workshops for community, leadership and professional skill building. Sessions were presented in both English and French, with simultaneous translations.
During plenary session, five Young Investigator Awards were presented for exceptional scientific research and work in the field of HIV and AIDS in Africa to two Ethiopians, one Nigerian, one Rwandan and one Senegalese.
The conference introduced, for the first time in ICASA history, the use of poster discussions. The daily poster exhibition showcased posters on research findings, best practices, and innovative strategies in the response to HIV/AIDS in Africa. In addition, daily exhibition booths gave over sixty local and international organizations and companies the opportunity to share their work, materials and ideas, and discuss important breakthroughs and activities with ICASA delegates.
The unique Positive Lounge, open at ICASA Monday through Thursday, provided a comfortable place for people living with HIV to rest and network, and included complementary refreshments, space for informal meetings, and a private area for taking medication.
There was also a disability center, catering, transportation, accommodation and security provided.
The Community Village offered daily interaction and discussion focused on successes, challenges, and concerns regarding the provision of community and home-based HIV/AIDS care, and included various activities, ranging from a disability networking zone, community dialogue area, a youth pavilion, a 'Drop-in Center' to improve the livelihoods of commercial sex workers, and the 'Condomize' zone which is a UNFPA initiative launched at IACSA 2011 to provide condom education and promotional materials including condoms, t-shirts and pins. The Village also provided dancing and singing, coffee ceremonies, and a fashion show.
International media participated in over ten press conferences, and benefitted from a modern Media Center and free, high-speed Internet, which was available throughout the conference hall to all participants.
The ICASA 2011 closing ceremony included a rapporteur session at which reporters presented issues that underscored the conference; finally, concluding remarks were given by Youth Front, the National Network of HIV Positive Women in Ethiopia, the IACSA 2011 Chair, the Society for AIDS in Africa President, the African Union Commission, and Minister of Health Dr. Tedros.
At the closing, the Declaration of ICASA 2011 urged donor governments, organizations and philanthropists to continue to invest in global health through contributions to the Global Fund and reverse the decision to cut Round 11 disbursements, thereby saving 100,000 lives every month through the Fund's programs.
The Declaration also called upon all African governments and political leaders create sustainability and own the HIV/AIDS response by being accountable to the various commitments of which they are signatories and provide necessary local resources for HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and the improvement of the health systems of their respective countries.
The 17th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa will be held in 2013 in South Africa.
Source: 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa