The 18th edition of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) was held in Zimbabwe at the end of 2015. The conference, which brought together leading scientists, practitioners, activists and organizations, started on 29 November and ended on 4 December. AJAN was represented at ICASA by participants from AJAN House and from Benin, Madagascar, Burundi and Zimbabwe itself. They contributed to the collective pool of knowledge and resources by sharing their own experiences, best practices and pragmatic approaches. In this issue of AJANews, we bring you some insights they took away from the conference, not least the emphasis on issues affecting young people.
Masy Razafindradama of the Centre Social Arrupe (CSA) in Madagascar writes:
Priorities need to be set and strengthened to lessen the impacts of HIV and AIDS among adolescents. Although adolescents globally now have knowledge about HIV, what they know remains limited. And while much has been done to decrease new HIV infections, progress remains very slow where they are concerned. AIDS-related deaths are declining among all age brackets except the 10-19-year category. The gaps in access to treatment for this age group remain significant.
The ICASA Youth Front, a coalition of organizations that serve youth in Africa, issued a statement after an ICASA pre-conference, whose highlights include: urging the government to invest in youth; strengthening and supporting structures for people living with HIV; and supporting young people without discrimination.
Time Baluwa, from the Integral Youth Development in Zimbabwe, writes:
The ICASA conference offered strong messages of hope for young people. One reason held out for hope was advances in technology. Developers and inventors have produced several modern inventions to facilitate easy and fast testing of HIV, hepatitis and syphilis, as well as CD4 and viral load to monitor HIV. Just a few years ago these machines were huge and usually centralized in hospitals and clinics. But now welcome developments have made the devices portable. They may be packaged for use in mobile clinics in the community, reaching young people where they are, even in remote places.
It goes without saying that knowing one’s status is crucially important. Early diagnosis allows for early management of HIV, through treatment and positive living, and increases chances of recovery in cases of general sexually transmitted infections.
But the greatest message of hope did not come from the main stages of the conference. Neither did it come from the main publications and handouts prepared by many organizations. This message was pronounced by the masses attending the conferences, in corridors, food spaces and informal settings. It was a message of hope from young people who have opted for abstinence. We could see how young people are reflective beings with strong capabilities and inherent power to make right and informed decisions. And how comprehensive sexual reproductive health means nothing less than holistic “integral” development, which aims to form young people in their core “inner being”.