President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has opened the 22nd edition of the International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) in Harare, Zimbabwe, which started on December 4th and is expected to end on December 9th.
Among the high-profile dignitaries who attended the opening section were Ghana’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr. Alexander Grant Ntrakwa, who is a career diplomat with extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy as well as some African diplomats, Civil Society Organisations working in the health sector and the donor community in Zimbabwe.
President Mnangagwa noted that over the past 10 years, Zimbabwe has recorded the highest decline of 78 percent in new HIV infections in East and Southern Africa.
“We have to redouble our efforts, mop up new infections, and sharpen our focus on most-at-risk groups,” he said.
The Zimbabwean President urged African nations to continue raising awareness about HIV and AIDS and stressed that Zimbabwe remains committed to creating an enabling environment for the pursuit of HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.
“As a continent and a nation, let us continue to raise awareness about the existence of the pandemic and equally seek to utilise HIV prevention and treatment services that are available throughout the country,” President Mnangagwa stated.
“As a country, we are committed to addressing inequalities related to access, control, and utilisation of HIV-related services,” he said.
He said African countries HIV response must tackle factors that drive new infections, such as child marriages, violence against women, and culture-driven practices that put men, women, and children at risk.
The ICASA 2023, on the general theme “AIDS is not over: Address inequalities, accelerate inclusion, and innovate,” is being organised by the Society for AIDS in Africa in collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe and other partners, including the World Health Organisation, the Global Fund, and others.
The conference seeks to offer a unique platform for leaders, activists, scientists, and the community to take stock of the multiple and overlapping crisis and, with eyes wide open, examine the devastating impact on people living with and affected by HIV.
The new data revealed in the report are frightening; progress has been faltering, resources have been shrinking, and inequalities have been widening.
Insufficient attention, innovation, and investment on the ground are putting the globe in danger. We face millions of AIDS-related deaths and millions of new HIV and STI infections if we continue on the current trajectory.
The Ghanaian delegation includes officials from the Ghana AIDS Commission and the National AIDS/STI Control Programme. The delegation includes Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, Programme Manager, National AIDS/STI Control Programme; Dr. Samuel Kwabena Boakye-Boateng, Upper East Regional Director of Health Service; and Mr. Majeed Sulemana, both from the Upper East Regional Health Directorate.
The others are Ms. Gifty Boakye, Mr. Philip Boakye, Mr. David Adika, and Dr. Raphael Adu-Gyamfi, all from the National AIDS/STI Control Programme; Mrs. Gifty Addo-Tetebo, Eastern Regional HIV/AIDS/STI Coordinator; and Mr. Jacob Acquah Andoh, Ghana Health Service Headquarters.
The rest are: Dr. Kafui Senya of WHO Ghana, Ms. Roberta Araba Amoquandoh, HIV Coordinator Ashaiman Municipal, as well as other stakeholders in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Ghana.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ayisi-Addo, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Harare, Zimbabwe, stressed that Ghana has upscaled enhanced strategies aimed at empowering the population to prevent new HIV infections and ensuring the availability of and accessibility of prevention, treatment, care, and support services.
The strategies were also geared towards mitigating the social and economic effects of HIV on persons infected and affected by HIV and subsequently ensuring the availability of adequate funding to execute the policy strategies.
He said the programme was determined to continue implementing key policies geared towards accelerating progress to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Dr. Ayisi-Addo said it was the goal of the NACP to achieve epidemic control and fast-track targets of 95-95-95 by 2025 as a means of accelerating the global target to end the epidemic by 2030.
The 95-95-95 targets, which was launched globally by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), have the aim of diagnosing 95 percent of all HIV-positive persons, putting at least 95 percent of those diagnosed on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and also achieving viral suppression for 95 percent of those on treatment by 2025.
“There was also the provision of timely pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis to key populations and persons exposed to HIV,” he said.
Dr. Ayisi-Addo noted that NACP has also initiated the implementation of HIV self-testing and the effective integration of HIV services to ensure universal health coverage.
He said the targets and commitments in Ghana’s HIV Strategy, which were in line with those of the Global Strategy when achieved, would ensure that the number of people who newly acquired HIV would decrease from 1.7 million in 2019 to less than 370, 000 by 2025, and the number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses would also decrease from 690,000 in 2019 to less than 250,000 in 2025.