International Conference on HIV and AIDS 2011
ICASA Conference 2011,
Addis Ababa, 4-8 December:
Thousands of experts in the fields of HIV, AIDS and sexually transmitted infections converged at the Millenium Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA 2011) took place from 4th to 8th December 2011. The theme for ICASA 2011 is "Own, Scale-up, Sustain". The conference provided a forum for exchange of experiences and lessons learnt in Africa and around the globe in responding to HIV, AIDS and STIs. It also facilitated consolidation of experiences gained in making evidence-based and informed responses to HIV, AIDS and STIs in Africa.
An ACORD delegation was at the conference with a clear purpose to bring to the attention of the participants and the world at large, the voices of the hard to reach communities, or HTR, in Africa. "The event provides ACORD an opportunity to send a strong message against stigma and discrimination directed at people living with HIV and AIDS", noted Ellen Bajenja, ACORD's HIV and AIDS Thematic Manager.
The hard to reach communities are groups of people who are not reached by critical services because of factors including geographical inaccessibility, pastoralist groups and people living in islands, those excluded by national policies, economically vulnerable populations including women and children, communities with deeply rooted cultural beliefs related to HIV infections and sexuality, populations affected by natural disasters and war causing displacement, and exclusion through cultural and racial prejudices.
ACORD's MAIN Progamme within the countries of the Great Lakes Region (including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) is working towards zero HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths. This is done partly through addressing the needs of the hard to reach yet most at risk populations and including them in national responses.
Together against the Spread of HIV and AIDS
The ICASA 2011 conference serves as an advocacy platform to mobilise African leaders, partners and the communities to increase ownership, commitment and support to the response. It also provides a space for exchange of knowledge, skills and consolidation of experiences and best practices in Africa and around the world to scale up evidence-based response on HIV, AIDS and STIs to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This was also a good opportunity to link and hold accountable political and national leaders, scientific experts, practitioners, communities, civil societies, the private sector and partners to scale up and sustain response towards zero infections of HIV.
4th December: Opening day
Stigma is HIV silent weapon...say no to exclusion!
The Conference has officially kicked off today 4th December!
Heads of State, former presidents, members of parliament, first ladies, ministers, UN agencies, civil society organizations, scientists, NGOs and most importantly people living with HIV gathered today around the same agenda of ZERO new infection, ZERO stigma and discrimination and ZERO HIV related death, at the Millenium Hall in Addis Ababa.
10,000 participants from across the continent and beyond have started exchanging, debating, learning...with a view to impacting immediate and
future actions of all stakeholders involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Our team is right at the heart of this opening day and a major event took place with the launch of our song STOP THE STIGMA, in partnership with the renowned Kenyan artist Kwame. The song denounces stigma and discrimination against Hard to Reach communities and minorities such as people living with HIV, sexual and ethnic minorities, sexually abused women, people with disability, refugees...).
A significant crowd quickly gathered around the stage at the Village Community Hall dancing and singing the chorus Stop the stigma / Non au stigma! The song received universal welcome and the audience asked for a repeat that was performed with a full-of-energy crowd dancing on stage with Kwame!
After the performance, broadcasted live on Ethiopian TV, numerous live testimonies acknowledged stigma is indeed HIV silent weapon and
together WE MUST STOP IT!
And Kwame to address the crowd "We can end stigma, but it begins with openness, the courage to speak out. Everyone should teach tolerance, respect, and understanding. Governments, religious leaders, and media should use their influence to advocate social change. I believe that
stigma and discrimination will continue to exist so long as society as a whole has a poor understanding and acceptance of marginalized people, the pain and the suffering caused by negative attitudes and discriminatory practices. Stigma and discrimination exist worldwide and as an artist, I want to spread the message across using ‘Stop the Stigma' song, from the community level to the rest of the world." Stigma is not the cure, togetherness is the answer!''
Several media interviews took place with RFI, Ethiopian TV, Togolese national radio...and we will upload them in the course of the week!
The ACORD and Oxfam stand welcomed over 150 participants who stopped
by to know more about our work on stigma and discrimination but also on people living with HIV's right to food and to universal access to treatment and services.
Our t-shirts ‘Stigma is HIV silent weapon - Say no to exclusion, top the stigma' were hugely successful and the t-shirts will be available on our online shop very soon (all benefits to be allocated to our HIV and AIDS programmes)!
The opening ceremony led by key leaders, among them the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, former President George W. Bush, UNAIDS Executive Director Mr. Michel Sidibé, Social for AIDS in Africa (SAA) president Prof. Robert Soudre, ICASA 2011 President Dr. Yigeremu Abebe, Mayor of Addis Ababa City H.E Ato Kuma Demekisa and many other high level officials, wished all a successful conference and fruitful discussions and debates to improve our efficiency in eradicating HIV and AIDS.
More on the upcoming sessions and happenings as the 5-day conference unfolds and brings about hope for a better coordinated multi-stakeholder response. Don't miss out and share your views!