November 18, 2011
The Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, is making final preparations to host the 16th international conference on HIV/AIDS in Africa. The conference will bring together more than 7,000 delegates, including health professionals and scientists on the front lines of the battle against sexually-transmitted infections.
Roughly 22.5 million of the world's 33 million AIDS sufferers are in Africa. So the conference opening December 4 is aimed at raising public awareness.
Ethiopia's Health Minister Tewodros Adhanom calls the weeklong event an opportunity to share information about state-of-the-art approaches to prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
"Our main objective is really to learn from others," said Tewodros. "There will be scientific knowledge and best practices in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment care and support, and other things we can learn from the world or the participants. We are really keen to learn, and we will have a chance to show to the world what we are doing."
This biennial conference comes 30 years after the discovery of the AIDS virus. While the number of AIDS deaths has been steadily decreasing since 2004 as antiretroviral drugs become more commonly available, sub-Saharan Africa still bears an inordinate share of the global HIV burden.
Tewodros says the conference will emphasize that the 22.5 million Africans with HIV/AIDS are people whose lives and deaths touch millions more.
"I told you the figures, these are not really numbers, they are people," Tewodros noted. "Twenty-two million in Africa is really big, and the extent, the magnitude of death is really huge, and if there is real commitment, there is no reason we cannot show or maintain the commitment we had started."
The International Conference on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Africa, known as ICASA, will be the biggest conference ever staged in Addis Ababa.
The city's massive Millennium Hall, built five years ago for celebrations of the Ethiopian calendar year 2000, is being transformed into a convention center for the event.
Officials say the facility will have a capacity of up to 35,000 people in 14 separate parallel sessions, making it one of Africa's largest convention centers.