Addis Ababa, December 08, 2011 - When the Global Fund's Deputy Executive Director, Debrework Zewdie, was about to reminded audience members that the Global Fund's commitment to treat Africa's HIV/AIDS population is not in demise, a column of nearly 100 activists silently marched through the plenary carrying signs pressuring African governments and donors to recognize ownership of the AIDS epidemic.
The final plenary session of the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) left the audience with a notion of hope and urgency that despite the Global Fund's cancellation of Round 11 disbursements, the organization will continue to campaign, raise funds and place pressure on governments in both the donor and recipient arenas.
"The Global Fund is here to stay," Zewdie said, receiving cheers from the conference attendees.
"We want to remind the donor countries that this is not the time to reprioritize the fight against AIDS, after having invested billions of dollars," she explained. "We want to remind African governments that they need to deliver on the Abuja commitment and start taking ownership in the struggle."
Zewdie also announced the Global Fund's latest strategy to set into practice priority criteria for countries in the highest need. "Our strategy remains to save over 10 million lives by 2016," Zewdie said. "In the year 2000, the world came together and people showed leadership. The global community funded the resources then; there is no reason to not find the resources now," she said.
Voices from within the global coalition of AIDS activists also had their say during the final plenary session. Seizing the microphone, an activist challenged African governments to designate more domestic resources to their dying populations. "It is time for Africa to take ownership. It is time to be invigorated and move with a response," the activist shouted to cheers from the audience.
Also on the final day, South African social justice advocate, Marlise Richter, reminded conference goers the need to remove social barriers preventing key populations such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), injection drug users (IDUs) and sex workers from receiving appropriate treatment in Africa. Besides removing social discrimination and stigma barriers, Richter called on PEPFAR leaders to remove their own "anti-prostitution pledge," a caveat placed on PEPFAR funds that prohibits funds to assist any program engaged in activities interpreted as advocacy for the decriminalization of prostitution.
"We need to move form ideology-based ideas to evidence-based ideas and provide a voice for the population that cannot speak for themselves for fear of retribution," Richter said.
Over the last thirty years, the AIDS epidemic has killed over 15 million Africans, a number that has been greatly reduced thanks to antiretroviral treatment and continent-wide prevention programs.
"Today we stand at a critical juncture, and we find ourselves fighting for new resources but also fighting to protect the gains we have made," Zewdie exclaimed.