Zimbabweans attending this year’s International Aids Conference currently underway in Durban, South Africa have high expectations for the world’s largest HIV gathering which hopes to come up with workable solutions to end Aids by 2030. Led by Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe has a heavy presence at the conference with participants ranging from youth organisations, people living with HIV and Aids, community representatives, civil society, United Nations agencies and Government representatives.In separate interviews conducted by The Herald yesterday, the Zimbabwean participants said they were looking forward to hearing more on new research findings, exchange ideas on responding to the needs of populations at high risk of getting HIV and community involvement in all response efforts.
Participants also said they were interested in hearing more on domestic mobilisation of resources from other countries’ experiences and strategies used by other countries to achieve the 90-90-90 UNAIDS targets, which will subsequently end Aids by 2030.
According to the UNAIDS targets, at least 90 percent of all people with HIV should know their status by 2020.
Ninety percent of those that are HIV positive must be on treatment and 90 percent of those on treatment should have their virus suppressed and undetectable by the year 2020.
Dr Parirenyatwa said Zimbabwe was championing the fourth 90 at the conference, which emphasises on preventing 90 percent of all new infections by the same year.
“We are saying if we are to win the war, let us close the tap for new infections. No matter how much we invest in all the other three 90s, as long as we continue to have new infections we might not end Aids by 2030 so we need to embrace the fourth 90,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Dr Parirenyatwa is having a series of meetings alongside the conference with different stakeholders, which include a group of former heads of State to try and find strategies for the continent to end Aids. National Aids Council communications officer Mrs Tadiwa Nyatanga-Pfupa said her organisation was interested in sessions on financing the response particularly domestic funding.
She said this was pertinent considering that NAC was on a drive to intensify mobilisation of local resources for the country to be able to provide antiretroviral drugs to an estimated 1,2 million people living with HIV in line with the latest World Health Organisation guidelines on treatment of HIV.
At the moment, about 800 000 people living with HIV are on treatment.
“As the co-ordinator of the response, the conference has provided our various sectors with a platform to showcase our own successes in response to HIV,” she said.
Aids activist Mrs Tendayi Westerhof called on African leaders to use the conference’s return to Africa as an opportunity to renew their commitments towards HIV response.
The other International Aids Conference in Africa was held in Durban in 2000.
“We applaud the organisation of the conference that it came back to Africa after 16 years and we hope that our African leaders will take advantage of this opportunity to renew their commitment towards HIV response.
“When we come to these meetings the language is the same but when we go back to our countries the situation is different, let’s move from rhetoric to action,” said Mrs Westerhof.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said communities were eager to see the conference coming up with resolutions that impact positively on the response to HIV.
He said often, conferences are held but nothing much comes out of them.
“As the world convenes in Durban for the 21st International Aids Conference, what scares me is not how much things change, but how much it stays the same from one international conference to the other,” said Mr Rusike.
He said the conferences should be an opportunity to strengthen partnerships between Governments, civil society, donors and the communities.
Mr Rusike said from the conference, communities were interested in sessions on funding models and managing leakages and efficient use of the little available resources.
Youths living with HIV said they were also looking forward to sharing experiences with youths from other countries on how to live positively with HIV.
Africaid Zvandiri spokesperson Mr Tinashe Rufurwadzo said in one of the sessions titled “In Our Voice”, youths expressed concern over lack of psychosocial support in health systems to address the mental well being of living positively with HIV.
“Delegates felt that it is important to consider the mental health component to be integrated in the health services saying they might be smiling from the outside but burning from the inside,” said Mr Rufurwadzo.
Over 18 000 delegates from about 180 countries are taking part in the five-day gathering of scientists, policy makers, civil society, community representatives, youths, donors and other delegates, which officially started yesterday.
The conference started with 14 independently organised pre-conference gatherings on Saturday and Sunday.
The main conference is running under the theme “Access Equality Rights now”.
Chairman of the South African inter-ministerial committee for the Aids 2016 Minister Jeff Radebe said in partnership with the International Aids Society, the South African government took all necessary steps to prepare the stage for an international discussion to further push back the frontiers of HIV, AIDS and TB.
“When the curtain comes down on AIDS 2016 at the end of these five days, and a result of the implementation of the extensive scientific knowledge and expertise that will be shared, the collaborations that will be established and the friendships that will be formed, the world must be a better place as a result of our deliberations in Durban,” said Minister Radebe.
He said the conference also anticipated that global leaders and flag bearers in the fight against HIV, AIDS and TB would share their vision, experience and solutions to end Aids.
Among the dignitaries who are expected to grace the conference are United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Prince Harry (son to the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles), Ms Charlize Theron (actress) and Mr Elton John (singer) all of whom are globally renowned for their activism in the fight against HIV.
Interesting sessions pencilled for the conference include latest developments in the search for a cure for HIV, developments in TB treatment, embracing key populations and funding models.