Addis Ababa, December 08, 2011 - ICASA 2011, Africa's largest conference on HIV/AIDS, brought together more than 10,000 participants from 103 countries, including scientists, health workers, people living with HIV, policy makers, civil society and non-governmental organizations, activists and government representatives to share and learn about successes, challenges and innovations in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS ended on the 8th of December 2011 as scheduled. The extraordinary conference served as a platform whereby many professionals networked, shared experiences and developed their skills and knowledge.
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 responses. The financial blow that came from 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 HIV and reduce transmission of AIDS.
The 16th ICASA did open colorfully in the presence of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, former US President George W. Bush, UNAIDS Executive Secretary, Mr. Michel Sidibé, and the Society for AIDS in Africa President Prof. Robert Soudre, and ICASA 2011 Dr. Yigeremu Abebe, diplomats, invited guests, participants and senior government officials.
Throughout the five days of ICASA 2011, over two hundred and twenty sessions took place, including sixteen plenary speeches, over fifty satellite symposia, 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 skills building.
Five Young Investigator Awards were also presented for exceptional scientific research and work in the field of HIV and AIDS in Africa to two Ethiopians, one Nigerian, one Rwandan and one Senegalese. In addition, a daily exhibition booth gave over sixty local and international organizations and companies the opportunity to share their work, materials and ideas, and discuss important breakthroughs and activities with ICASA delegates.
The unique Positive Lounge, open through the week, provided a comfortable place for people living with HIV to rest and network, with complementary refreshments, space for informal meetings, and a private area for taking medications. There was also a disability center to those who need it, not to mention the catering, transportation, accommodation and security services provided for all.
The Community Village, on the other hand, offered daily interactions and discussions focused on successes, challenges, and concerns regarding the provision of community and home-based HIV/AIDS care, and included various activities, ranging from a disability networking zone, community dialogue area, a youth pavilion, a 'Drop-in Center' to improve the livelihoods of commercial sex workers, and the 'Condomize' zone, a UNFPA initiative, launched at ICASA 2011 to provide condom education and promotional materials including condoms, t-shirts and pins. The Village also provided dancing and singing, coffee ceremonies, and a fashion show.
The ICASA 2011 closing ceremony was accompanied with a declaration that urged donors to continue to invest in global health through contributions to the global fund. Finally, concluding remarks were given by Youth Front, the National Network of HIV Positive Women in Ethiopia, the ICASA 2011 Chair, the Society for AIDS in Africa President, the African Union Commission, and Minister of Health H.E. Dr. Tedros.
ICASA 2011 final press conference was held on the final day with Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopian Minister of Health and Patron of ICASA 2011, Dr. Yigeremu Abebe, President of ICASA 2011, and Mikias Sissay, Communication and Promotion Manager of ICASA 2011, updated the media on overall conference outcomes.