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AFRO-NETS> ICASA participants are the key this week in Lusaka
- Subject: AFRO-NETS> ICASA participants are the key this week in Lusaka
- From: Judith Soal <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 05:18:30 -0400 (EDT)
ICASA participants are the key this week in Lusaka
Cape Times, 13th September 1999
The real business of this week's conference on Aids in Africa isn't the
political announcements or promise of new donations, it's the partici-
pation of the people who do the real work.
Tomorrow the World Bank is to launch of a "major new initiative" to
fight HIV in Africa. At the weekend the United Nation's Aids programme
announced its International Partnership against Aids in Africa. Yester-
day the UN called a press conference to declare Aids a "developmental
crisis", coinciding with the decision by African leaders to call for a
state of emergency around HIV.
But in the corridors and on the lawns of the plush Mulungushi Confer-
ence Centre in Lusaka, where the International Conference on Aids and
STDs in Africa (Icasa) is being held, the word is: "So what?". Dele-
gates to this conference don't need to be told that Aids is threatening
the life of our continent. Most of them could quote the statistics in
their sleep: Four million Africans contract the virus that causes Aids
every year, despite all our prevention efforts. The majority of the 22
million Africans living with HIV will die in the next 10 years, despite
the advanced treatments that have turned Aids from a death sentence
into a manageable disease in developed countries.
These delegates are the people trying to survive in the crisis: They
are those running small projects to teach people about HIV; those liv-
ing with the virus in their bodies and courageous enough to speak out;
they are the health workers trying to find affordable ways to care for
people with Aids-related diseases. More than the fanfare that accompa-
nies political announcements or new donations, it is the intense dis-
cussions between these people, over the dinner tables, during the ques-
tion and answer sessions and on the buses to and from the conference,
discussions about what worked, what didn't, what might, that will have
the most immediate impact.
They aren't saying politics and money are unimportant: As is repeated
in session after session, experiences in the only two African countries
that have managed to reduce the number of new HIV infections, Uganda
and Senegal, have shown that willing and outspoken politicians are a
necessary but not sufficient ingredient in the fight against HIV. There
were many raised eyebrows over the absence of African heads of states -
including Zambia's Frederick Chiluba who was to open the conference -
at Sunday's opening ceremony.
That international donor agencies, governments and organisations like
the World Bank have realised the dangers to the global economy pre-
sented by the Aids epidemic and are at last talking serious money (we
don't know yet just how much) is being welcomed, but only in passing.
The real business here is: "What have you learned, in your work, that
can help me in mine?" The findings of a tiny project in rural Cameroon
to teach school children about HIV might not make headline news, but
they do provide food for thought for those running similar projects in
Soweto or Zambia's Copper belt.
The presentation by Brigitte Syamalevwe, a Zambian teacher who was di-
agnosed HIV-positive in 1992, received a standing ovation from the au-
dience, many trying to make sense of their own diagnoses.
The session on proper nutrition for people with Aids, the poster pres-
entation on how to discourage practices like female genital mutilation
and the debate on the pros and cons of distributing food parcels as
part of a home-based care initiative didn't draw large sections of the
400-strong press contingent, but from where many delegates stand they
were more important than what the politicians had to say.
It's hard to report these details. You probably won't read much about
them or see them on television. But don't be fooled. That's the real
business of conferences like the one being held in Lusaka this week.
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