ICASA 2023 beckons for Zimbabwe

Health and Child Care Minister, Dr Douglas Mombeshora

AS the world stops to take notice of the milestones that have been achieved in the fight against HIV and AIDS, Zimbabwe is ready to play its part to facilitate conversations around ending the epidemic at the upcoming International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA 2023).

The country will host the 22nd edition of the biggest AIDS conference on the African continent in Harare from December 4 to 9 this year with more than 8 000 delegates from nearly 150 countries expected to attend.

The ICASA is a major and only bilingual international AIDS conference which takes place in Africa.

Owing to the numerous interventions, Zimbabwe has made significant progress in achieving set objectives towards ending AIDS, becoming one of five countries that have achieved the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets before the targeted 2025.

Speaking during a curtain raiser ICASA press conference in Harare last week, Health and Child Care Minister, Dr Douglas Mombeshora, who was represented by Permanent Secretary Dr Aspect Maunganidze, said the country was now ready to host the premier event.

“The programme is now ready and all Government systems and structures, from security, banking, accommodation, transport and health among others, have been mobilised to provide the necessary support before and during the conference. All locals and visitors have full access to healthcare services,” he said.

Among the issues to be discussed at the conference is resource mobilisation to continue fighting AIDs and STIs.

Dr Mombeshora said Zimbabwe already had in place home-grown funding solutions which could serve as an example for other governments to emulate.

“Zimbabwe is praised internationally for its home-grown domestic funding initiative, National AIDS Trust Fund, and this will be one of the best practice examples to be shared at the high level meeting of Ministers of Finance to precede 22nd ICASA,” he said.

On this, African Finance Ministers will meet to discuss domestic funding models at a pre-conference meeting to be held on December 2 in Victoria Falls.

Another high level meeting will be held on the same day by African First Ladies, chaired by Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa. The First Ladies will be looking at elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV.

ICASA 2023 president and president of the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA), Dr David Parirenyatwa, said Zimbabwe is ready to receive more than 8 000 participants from across Africa who will be coming to attend ICASA in Harare.

“We are very clear in our minds that the fight against AIDS must continue as our theme of the 22nd ICASA says, ‘AIDS is not over’. There has been an apparent complacency in the fight against AIDS, as some people are now saying ‘we have done enough for AIDS’ — so, we need to remind ourselves that there are still infections that are happening, especially among the youth. Therefore, we must continue to address AIDS so that Zimbabwe and the region of Africa is on track to end AIDS (by 2030 as per the commitments enshrined in the SDGs).”

According to the World Health Organisation, there were approximately 37,9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018 with 1,7 million people becoming newly infected in 2018 globally.

The WHO African Region is the most affected and accounts for almost two thirds of global new HIV infections.

Eastern and Southern Africa are the most affected regions recording about 1,4 million new infections in 2020. The region had an estimated 25,8 million people living with HIV in 2020.

International AIDS Society (IAS) governing council member and president emeritus of the AIDS Society of India (ASI), Dr Ishwar Gilada, said ICASA 2023 was happening at a critical time when governments have committed to ending AIDS by 2030.

“Now, less than 90 months are left to keep the promise. Zimbabwe is among 5 countries in Africa that have already achieved HIV related 95-95-95 targets for 2025 — this is commendable. Lots of progress in advancing the fight against AIDS has been made possible due to generic medicine makers of lifesaving antiretroviral therapies in India,” he said.

Dr Gilada said the price of treatment had also come down due to generic manufacturing of medicines in the global south and expressed hope that the conference would close the gaps and missed opportunities in advancing the fight against AIDS and other infectious and non-communicable diseases.

ICASA 2023 is also expected to look at how countries can leverage on technology and innovation to anchor the fight against AIDS.

Mr Sriram Natarajan, a thought leader on innovative new and laboratory independent diagnostics, and chief executive officer of Molbio Diagnostics, said ICASA was an opportunity for Africa to bring lab solutions to the people for better impact and for ensuring universal access.

“We are pleased to be participating at ICASA 2023 presenting our innovative point of care solutions for accelerating early detection of communicable diseases such as STIs, HIV and TB among others, in order to ensure initiation of appropriate treatment right at the community level,” he said.

“An AIDS-free and TB-free Africa is possible but not unless we find HIV, TB, STIs early and accurately enough and ensure proper linkage to the continuum of care. This warrants a paradigm shift towards evidence-based people-centric tools and approaches. Bringing labs to the people is one such path-breaking approach which has made same-day test and treatment possible for a range of conditions including HIV, TB, hepatitis, among others.

“We hope the upcoming 22nd ICASA will be a pivotal moment to spur stronger action in making inclusive and equitable access to innovative multi-disease diagnostic tools a reality for all in Africa,” said Mr Natarajan.

This year, ICASA is being held under the theme, “AIDS is not over. Address inequalities, accelerate inclusion and innovation”.


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