ICASA 2011 concludes colorfully

Global fund remain a point of concern

The sixteenth International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) conducted from December 4 to 8 last week concludes colorfully. The Global Fund retreat for three years remained a point of great concern through out the conference that lasted for five days.

 

“We are asking the Global Fund and other funding partners to continue their support. It is not an appropriate time to cease the funding. It is high time either to save or break our community who are living with the virus,” said Jonnah William, an activist.

The universal gathering which is the biggest of its kind that has been hosted in the history of the country has brought together more than 10 thousand delegates comprised of politicians, scientists, activists, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

As the day of the gathering concluded, the effort of different concerned bodies working together for its smooth conclusion set a new standard in the history of ICASA in the past 25 years. More than a dozen people from four continents whom Capital talked to praised the success of the gathering in terms of planning, coordination, venue and supporting facilities.

“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 transmission of AIDS,” reads an official press release by the ICASA Secretariat on Thursday December 08, 2011.

Ethiopia has benefited not only in terms of pocketing foreign currency but also in terms of building its image through practically showing the ever changing economic dynamism and boosting its potential for conference tourism in the long run. The concerned Ethiopian authorities have proved their competence in the area of accommodation, transportation, tourism and communication. This is a clear indication that Ethiopia can achieve its ambitions if its different organs work effectively in mutual cooperation.

100 days before the international conference was held, there were some 127 standard hotels and guest houses identified in Addis Ababa. Out of the total, 75 of them with the capacity to host 1,900 delegates had agreed to block their rooms for the conference.  By then Addis Ababa was believed to have the capacity to host about 5 thousand delegates with in the tourist class accommodations. The remaining accommodations were to be filled by hotels and lodges in towns surrounding Addis Ababa in 100 kilometer radius.

However, three weeks before the international event kicked off, the number of beds readied in and around Addis Ababa surpassed 10,500.

“It is not only the hotels that pulls up the number but also the hostels and guest houses in and around Addis Ababa, including  institutional hostels like the one in Addis Ababa University Akaki Campus, Civil Service University College, and Red Cross Training Center, said Dr. Yigeremu Abebe, President of ICASA 2011 in an exclusive interview with Capital last week.

More than 3,000 researchers in the area of science, leadership and community have submitted their abstract for the concluded conference. Out of the total, 1000 abstracts were covered in the five day long conference. Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, leads in the number of abstracts and papers presented, followed by Ethiopia, South Africa and Kenya. Out of the 1,000 papers presented, five finalists were awarded with certificates of participation of which two are Ethiopians while the balance goes to Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

More than 10 thousand delegates from over 103 countries have participated in the much anticipated conference. Out of the total number of delegates 6,300 were registered online, 700 at the conference hall while 3,300 people participated in the community village and exhibition centers.

The event took place at the Millennium Hall which was modestly modified for this conference purpose. Ethiopian born Saudi billionaire and international business tycoon, Sheik Mohammed Ali Al-amoudi, has spent more than 4 million euro to prepare the hall for the event according to official source in the secretariat. The MH has received a major facelift. With fourteen different venues with all the necessary conference facility, a community village, an exhibition center, a media center and other important support centers, the MH turned in to a modern village on its own. Every conference room was named after rivers, lakes or historical sites in Ethiopia. The largest venue called Abay has a capacity to seat 3,500 delegates.

The conference is the 16th in a series focusing on Africa over the past 25 years. It is aimed at putting all the necessary pressure on concerned bodies dealing with the diseases so that they can do better in a sense of determination and ownership, sharing new scientific know-how and best practices, and creating a debate about the responses of leaders in the governments, non governmental organizations, private business entities, community and the association of people living with HIV/AIDS so far. It also aimed at pinpointing priority areas that needs proper strategy, programs and policy responses to mitigate further losses that are caused by the infections.

The conference has not only served as a forum to share scientific knowledge but it has also served as a venue to urge African leaders to mobilize all the necessary domestic resources to combat the epidemic in addition to providing business opportunity for many citizens and business institutions.

“Africa is a rich continent with poor community. The rich and poor divide is very high. We do not even know where to start to narrow the gap. We have brilliant messages from our leaders all the time. But there is nothing on the ground. Therefore, we need to stand up and ask our respective government, ‘Where is the money for health and HIV/AIDS funding in the face of international donors funding cut?’ The global fund has suspended its funding for the coming three years. That is till 2014. So, how can we support our community with HIV/AIDs and other diseases, is a timely question. We need our leaders to mobilize internal resources and be transparent about the funds they receive,” said Lynette Mabote, one activist asking African leaders about funding for HIV/AIDS.

The 17th ICASA is scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa after two years. Throughout the five days of the conference, over two hundred and twenty sessions took place, including sixteen plenary speeches, and over fifty satellite symposia. 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 both in English and French with simultaneous translations.