I see an AIDS-Free Africa KEY LEARNINGS BY AUSTRALIA AWARDS ALUMNI FROM THE AIDS 2016 CONFERENCE

HIV/AIDS remains one of the most critical health issues facing Africa. In an effort to address this, a global conference is held annually to address ways in which to fight and eliminate epidemic. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded six Australia Awards Alumni to attend the AIDS 2016 Conference in Durban in July. In addition to networking and exchanging ideas at the AIDS 2016 Conference, these Alumni share their key learnings from the Conference.

HIV & Aids Statistics - Gugu Mona

“It was evident that despite the gains in prevention, certain populations such as adolescent girls and young women are reporting increasing rates of HIV infection. Furthermore, of the top six countries that contributed nearly half of the new infections globally in 2015, four are from the Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa accounted for 370 000, followed by Nigeria with 210 000, Uganda at 80 000 and Mozambique with 75 000 new HIV infections.

To reach the ambitious 90-90-90 targets by 2020, there is a need to speed up and intensify combination prevention strategies such as Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision, HIV testing, Test & Treat and ensuring that those on treatment are virally suppressed, all of which require a multi-sectoral approach.”

“At risk” populations - Tau Modiri“

“A very clear message right from the beginning was that the fight against HIV/AIDS cannot be won if our intervention approaches are discriminative - HIV itself does not discriminate. Indications are that adolescents, young women, sex workers, and men who have sex with men are the most at risk and most affected by HIV and that we must double our efforts to reach out to them. Also to take note that a lot of progress has been realised in fighting the pandemic - to date 17 million HIV infected people have been put on treatment, the number of AIDS related deaths have been reduced by 43%; and through Prevention from Mother To Child Treatment (PMTCT) programs, 85 countries have eliminated HIV transmission from mother to child.”

The need to address the ‘youth bulge’ - Caroline Nyongesa“

“As the world celebrates successes of HIV programs targeting elimination of mother to child transmission, it also prepares to tackle the ‘youth bulge’. This bulge is the growing population of adolescents with perinatal HIV infection - the vast majority were infected in the 2000s before the advent of Elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) programs. This rising number has made adolescent-friendly programs a priority for governments and health systems because traditional adult responses cannot sufficiently address the special needs of this population. More specifically, there remains a need for gender transformative policies and interventions that are responsive to the needs of young women.”

Treatment and care - Zandile Mnisi

“To date, newer and even better drugs are being developed; first generation long acting formulations that might reduce Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) to six injections per year; slow release drugs for up to a year (early trial phase); and monoclonal antibodies* to name a few. Hand in hand with these new developments, studies revealed that initiating ART irrespective of CD4 cell count outweighs the risk of waiting for the CD4 to drop. To this end, the current WHO guidelines recommend a transition to Test and Treat [putting people on treatment as soon as they test positive for HIV]. As we scale up Test and Treat, I am wondering what could be done better to limit the issues of non-adherence and poor retention to care?”

*Antibodies that are made by identical immune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell

HIV prevention strategies - Cecilia Nattembo

“Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision (VMMC), was shown to be an important strategy in the reduction of HIV transmission [Medical male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60%]. There is therefore, an increased need for strategies that address the barriers to acceptance of this service. Safety and acceptability are issues that greatly affect uptake of this service by men. Newer strategies included non-surgical methods of circumcision which showed higher uptake, less healing time and reduced number of visits to the health facilities. The other aspect was demand creation using adolescent girls’ influence on young men. ”

Progress in medical technologies - Limpho Maile

“The AIDS 2016 Conference, concluded that this is the best of times; there has been unprecedented scale up of ART with 17 million people being on ART in 2016. In sub-Saharan Africa approximately 10,000 were on ART in 2000, now more than 12 million are on ART. AIDS-related deaths declined by 45% since the peak in 2005. There is a decline of 35% in new infections over the past decade. The HPTN 052 trial [ART as prevention clinical trial] proved that Treatment is Prevention. The START study revealed that treatment is indicated for everyone who is HIV infected. Numerous studies also proved that Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) works. ARV drugs are the cornerstone to improving the quality of life for PLWHA and decreasing transmission of HIV rely on ARVs.”

Credits:

Gregor Cresnor from the Noun Project AIDS 2016 Conference International AIDS Society DFAT

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