Program Manager, Yale Global Health Leadership Institute
I just returned from attending the 16th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and STDs in Africa (ICASA) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from December 4-8th, 2011. One of the highlights of the conference was a listening to a passionate and controversial speech given by a fellow Canadian and HIV/AIDS activist Stephen Lewis during one of the plenary sessions. Lewis lambasted the Global Fund for cancelling Round Eleven of funding thereby undermining the monies for enumerable HIV/AIDS programs across Africa (Click here to read more on Mr. Lewis’ Yale visit). And, he further antagonized the AIDS community for waiting five years to implement the new “Treatment as Prevention” protocol. Lewis invigorated the audience in a call to action to change the status quo of AIDS funding and to speed the scale-up of new and effective AIDS treatment and prevention methods.
Another inspirational speaker was Dr. Tedros Adhanhom Gebreyesus, the Ethiopia Federal Minister of Health, who spoke on how vertical funding for HIV/AIDS was used for broader health system strengthening efforts. This topic resonated with me and my current work on the Ethiopian Millennium Rural Initiative (EMRI), the project on which I presented two posters on at the conference. It highlighted how efforts to strengthen the primary health care system of Ethiopia can simultaneously improve HIV/AIDS services while also impacting maternal and child health, malaria, TB and other pressing challenges facing Ethiopian communities. This was the approach of the EMRI program and it was exciting to see the alignment of the project with the Dr. Tedros’s vision for Ethiopia.
One fascinating aspect of the conference was the promotion of condom use. The slogan: Condomize! was used as a public health campaign to encourage condom-use. One non-governmental organization called DKT, had a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony during which they promoted the use of coffee flavored condoms, which I found quite clever! It made for a memorable AIDS prevention campaign and ICASA conference.