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ICASA and its focus
The International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is a biannual forum that brings together all stakeholders involved with HIV/AIDS impact mitigation and control. The conference draws together African scientists, leaders, communities, organisations/institutions and individuals to share experiences and updates on their responses to the epidemic.
The need for a forum for Africans to get together and discuss peculiar issues related to HIV/AIDS and the control of other STIs on the continent was identified by the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) in the early 1980s. The first of these forums was held in 1986 in Brussels, Belgium. Subsequent forums came up in 1987, 1988 and 1989 in Naples Italy, Arusha Tanzania and Marseille, France respectively.
Delegates at the 1989 conference that held in Marseille, France officially named the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA). At that meeting, SAA took a decision to hold subsequent meetings in Africa. Subsequently, the 1990, 1991 and 1992 editions of the conference were hosted by Zaire (DR Congo), Senegal and Cameroon respectively. The focus of these conferences was on the epidemiology, health education and clean and safe blood for all, prevention of HIV/AIDS and STIs. The SAA was constituted in 1990 during the meeting in Zaire through elections of members into its council.
At the 1992 meeting – the 8th edition of ICASA – a decision was taken to hold subsequent meetings biannually. During the intervals, national conferences and workshops on HIV/AIDS/STIs would be organised. Subsequent meetings then held in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003 in Uganda, Cote d‟Ivoire, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Kenya respectively. Each of these conferences has had major highlights.
In 1995, the blueprint of what was to become the HIV/AIDS success story in Uganda was laid. Two years later in Cote d‟Ivoire, the government of Senegal drew attention to its own domestic success. The 13th International conference in Kenya drew attention to the much-needed scale up of ART services to PLWHA. Two years later, access of PLWHA to ART within countries had significantly increased.
The 14th ICASA, which held in Abuja, Nigeria, focused on the family as an important and significant component of managing the HIV epidemic. The programme also provided an enabling environment for analyzing the impact of various initiatives on the HIV and AIDS situation and evaluating developments and advancements made in addressing the epidemic since the last conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2003. Unlike past conferences, this 2005 edition also brought leaders from across the continent together to reflect on their efforts and commitments to addressing the epidemic within their countries and within the continent. The conference hoped to mobilize leadership for commitment and action to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African family.
The impact of the conferences over the years has been remarkable. The forum has helped to facilitate North/South collaborations and networking, it has facilitated the mobilisation of funds for addressing the epidemic, created greater awareness about the epidemic across the continent as well as drawn the attention of the international community to the enormity of the HIV/AIDS situation in Africa. The 2004 edition helped to further highlight the role of youths and women in the control of the epidemic on the continent.
There however still remains a lot to be done. The continent harbours the largest number of PLWHAs – 64% of infected individuals living on the continent of which 76% are women. MTCT of HIV infection is still a critical issue with the number of OVC incredibly high. At the end of 2004, 3.1 million new infections were recorded: 200,000 more as against the 2002 records. The continent‟s prevalence is 7.4% with a range between 6.9% and 8.3%. The death toll is still high with 3.1 million deaths arising from HIV/AIDS in 2004. ART services still remains out of the reach of many both in terms of accessibility and availability.
SAA would continue to evolve ways of addressing the peculiar continental HIV/AIDS problem. It recognises that the epidemics on the continent are diverse both in scale and the pace at which they are evolving. It also recognises the importance of commitment and collective abilities in addressing the epidemic and positions itself to respond proactively to issues. ICASA would continue to be one of the veritable tools for SAA to achieve its vision of seeing a continent free of HIV/AIDS. The 15th edition of ICASA is scheduled to hold in Gabon in 2007. With a more vibrant and reconstituted SAA, the edition promises to be more innovative in addressing the continent‟s HIV/AIDS epidemic.