By Elias Hakizimana
Rwanda Ministry of Health with the Society for Aids in Africa (SAA) announced on Saturday March 24, 2018 that they will host an International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), which is intended to look for ways to move fast in tackling new contamination, and ensuring that AIDS patients ‘live healthy’.
AIDS continue to claim lives of millions in the world, with Africa suffering the most of the death toll caused by the viral disease.
In line with mitigating the fatal effects of the epidemic, African countries set targets to have 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status have access to antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of people who are on treatment have undetectable levels of HIV.
ICASA 2019 will reflect the country’s values, the SDGs, the 90-90-90 goal and the end of AIDS by 2030.
The conference will take place in Kigali between 3rd-4th of December 2019 and will bring more than 10,000 people across the continent. It will look at policies and strategies to fight against HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa.
Officially launching the preparatory meeting of ICASA 2019, Dr Patrick Ndimubanzi, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health said that it is pleasure for Rwanda Ministry of Health to host this important meeting that will gather various participants from all over the World to discuss emerging evidence on HIV.
“We are very happy to host this meeting at this time around, we have been talking about free movement of people and goods in Africa, achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs), and now it is an opportunity to talk about HIV, its comorbidities, and how we can get to the goal to have healthy and productive people,” Ndimubanzi said.
Late last year, Rwanda was selected to host this conference. Among the participants to this meeting are researchers, Lecturers from high learning institutions and universities, private sector members, governments’ officials, representatives of the community as well as people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV).
He further said that this annual conference is an opportunity for Rwanda to welcome other partners including health experts to share experience in fighting against HIV and other diseases associated with it.
The state of HIV/AIDS, and efforts made to control the epidemic
Ndimubanzi said that Rwanda will find occasion to present efforts made in fighting against HIV/AIDS as of today PLHIV live the same life as normal people due to successful initiatives such as healthcare services in all hospitals and health centers including free HIV test, treatment and care, respect of Antiretroviral (ARV) consumption for PLHIV as well as free counseling.
HIV prevalence is at 3 percent in Rwanda since 10 years ago, further measures like self-test and availability of Condom Kiosks everywhere at hotspots in Rwanda were established to further the move. Besides, Rwanda Ministry of health calls for people to eliminate stigma against HIV positive people.
Luc Armand Bodea, Society for AIDs in Africa Coordinator noted that conference will be looking at the new trends and challenges to be able to make changes in regard with fighting HIV.
“We are organising this meeting to know the new trends of HIV prevalence, we know there are still challenges as people can have discrimination, we need to know challenges PLHIV are facing in a bid to address our issue in Africa and empower the community at large. We believe that hosting the 20th ICASA conference here in Rwanda will bring special message towards eliminating HIV in our continent,” said Armand.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global situation and trends, Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV.
Globally, 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2016. An estimated 0.8% [0.7-0.9%] of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide are living with HIV, although the burden of the epidemic continues to vary considerably between countries and regions.
The Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 25 adults (4.2%) living with HIV and accounting for nearly two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide.
The Ministry of Health under its 2013-2018 HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan, targets to raise the usage of condoms in non-cohabiting intercourse by 13%, increase the fraction of the male adult population that is circumcised from 13% to 66% and decrease the estimated new infections in children from 1,000 to less than 200 per year.
Eastern and Southern Africa have made good progress and are on track to reach the 90-90-90 targets.
Some of the remaining challenges that need addressing
Despite the achievements and tangible targets by African countries to fight against HIV/AIDS, most of PLHIV in middle-income countries still face food insecurity which decelerate their chance of living although they respect ARV drug consumption.
Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends ensuring intake of 1 Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) of each required micronutrient, which may require taking micronutrient supplements.
Few studies have assessed the impact of food supplements because the mortality risk in patients receiving ART increases with lower body mass index (BMI); improving the BMI seems important. Whether this requires provision of food supplements depends on the patient’s diet and food security.
ICASA takes place every two years since1990. So far, ICASA has been hosted in fourteen countries with more than 100,000 direct participants. The last ICASA was hosted in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in 2017 with 6030 delegates in attendance, 2327 selected abstracts and a total of 1588 scholarships awarded of which 901 were awarded from the ICASA International Secretariat and 687 from the host country.