ICASA 2011 Opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Own, Scale-Up and Sustain

ICASA 2011 Opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Own, Scale-Up and Sustain

The 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) opened today, December 5, 2011, at the newly refurbished Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a colorful and lively music and dance production by the Ethiopian National Theatre and Traditional Music Group and the Addis Ababa Youth & Children’s Theatre.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). Credit: UNAIDS/J.Ose.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé gave an impassioned welcome speech remembering the last 30 years of AIDS and the 24 million African lives lost to the epidemic. He called for solidarity and compassion for the 34 million people currently living with HIV.

Sidibé reminded the packed room of over 10,000 delegates, that a celebration of the successes of the past decade was also in order. “In 2001, people were telling us that we were not able to deliver treatment in Africa or that our prevention programs would never work. Today, we prove them wrong," he said.

Sidibé praised President George W. Bush’s bold decision to provide treatment thru PEPFAR and to embolden a sense of urgency to the disease. Sidibé also praised President Barack Obama’s continued support for HIV/AIDS programs.

Sidibé noted that not long ago Uganda and Senegal were the only two success stories on HIV/AIDS but, “today we have 32 countries in Africa who have reduced infections”. He praised Botswana for eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV and hailed the new movement in Kenya to combat stigma and discrimination and provide access to treatment for marginalized and vulnerable populations.

“This has been the story of people breaking the conspiracy of silence and demanding dignity and exercising their rights," said Sidibé.

But, he said, “I am scared by unfolding events and that global funding for HIV is declining for the first time." The Global Fund to Treat AIDS, TB, and Malaria has postponed its Round 11 grants.

“If we accept this status quo, then we have forsaken 9 million people in need of treatment. It is our collective failure that this will result in more deaths and more orphans. … Once patients are off ARVs for 6 months, they die. If we don’t pay now, we will pay forever.”

Sidibé called for a crisis meeting to look at the Global Fund’s decision on African lives and for a coordinated response. He also challenged all African leaders to stop dependence on external donors and develop a “new paradigm for development for Africa”.

Melao Phillipus, a representative of UN Women on behalf of youth, women and People Living with HIV -- and HIV positive herself since age 19 -- urged delegates to look carefully at “HIV-neglected youth” who can’t get access to sexual education and reproductive health services.

Ethiopian Prime Minister H.E. Meles Zenawi gives an award to former President of the United States of America George W. Bush for his contribution to the AIDS response. Credit: UNAIDS/J.Ose

President George W. Bush delivered the keynote address saying that in 2001 AIDS infections had soared and were a “humanitarian disaster”. He recapped the results-oriented successes of PEPFAR over the last decade and said, “The US and other donors must set priorities and there is no greater priority than saving human lives.”

Bush urged delegates to discuss the growing connections between HIV and cervical cancer, by joining with him and others in the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative. President Bush received a leadership award from Ethiopian Prime Minister H.E. Meles Zenawi.

Sessions and workshops begin in earnest tomorrow under the banner of  “Own, Scale-Up and Sustain”.