The 21st International AIDS Conference opened yesterday, July, 18 at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convection Centre (ICC) where the conference will run until July,22.
Inequality was pinpointed as major proponent in the struggle against AIDS at the Global Village opening on July 18. Darren Walker, from the New York-based Ford Foundation, responded to the 2030 goal: “To fight HIV/AIDS, we must fight inequality. And to eliminate inequality, we must eliminate HIV/AIDS,” said Walker. Hosting 20 000 delegates representing 180 countries the conference aims to improve the fight against HIV and AIDS. Prominent international figures attending the conference include the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Prince Harry, Charlize Theron and Elton John, all of whom are globally renowned activist and leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “Let us all hold hands to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS by 2030,” said EThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo who added that stakeholders, activists, scientists and government must come together for a common cause.
“We are satisfied that indeed South Africa is ready to welcome the world and to host a successful 2016 conference where history will be made in advancing the global fight against HIV, AIDS and TB,” said Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Jeff Radebe. Radebe said that hosting the conference would allow South Africa to showcase achievements, share challenges and exposed problems to global developments available to assist in prevention, treatment and combating discrimination and stigmas.
In a press release, President Jacob Zuma said South Africa is pleased to host the conference after making progress in response to the disease since the policy turnaround in 2009. On December, 1, 2009 President Zuma announced that the country would launch a massive campaign to mobilise all South Africans to get tested for HIV. The campaign resulted in more than 20 million people being tested. Currently, South Africa has the largest antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in the world.
“South Africa has the world’s biggest HIV and AIDS treatment programme,” said Radebe, detailing the HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign that launched in 2010. Approximately 18 million South Africans tested for HIV within 18 months of the campaign while 10 million are testing annually.
Open to the public, the AIDS2016 Global Village situated at The Durban Exhibition Centre provided a space for delegates to share knowledge with planned events, networking lounges, food stalls and exhibition stands from health care service providers both locally and abroad.
The public was encouraged to visit the Global Village during the conference. “This space provides an opportunity to bridge the areas of health and science through dialogue, with the aim to learn and share. Residents must use this as a platform to learn,” said EThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo who encouraged residents to open their “hearts and homes,” as the city welcomed delegates.
Coinciding with Nelson Mandela day, the humanitarian goals of the conference were highlighted. “We are excited at the prospect of a rainbow of humanity from all over the globe gathering in South Africa at a time when we observe International Nelson Mandela Day with acts of kindness and charity,” said Radebe.
Practical ways to apply scientific advances are a key factor. “The Global Village is all about turning science into action and coming up with interventions to ensure an Aids- free generation,” said MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
Radebe said AIDS 2016 is a platform from which governments, civil society, the scientific community, business and social partners at large will jointly secure the access, equity and rights that continue to elude millions of people infected by HIV, AIDS and TB.
To show solidarity members of the public are urged to wear red, white and black or light a candle of hope in memory of those infected and affected by HIV.