Conference to explore challenges impacting on HIV, AIDS

Monday, March 30, 2009

Durban - The 4th Southern African AIDS Conference, which kicks off on Tuesday, will explore and provide insights into factors that impact on responses to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

Health Minister Barbara Hogan is expected to open the four-day conference which will be held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban.

The conference will highlight some ethical factors that need to be considered in the development and implementation of HIV and AIDS related strategies and policies, including media ethics.

This year's conference is themed 'Scaling up for success', which recognises that there is an urgency to take stock of best practices in treatment and prevention and to scale these up sufficiently to begin to roll back the onslaught in numbers and impact that the epidemic is currently waging in Southern Africa.

Conference Chairperson Professor Linda-Gail Bekker said one of the hardest hit regions in the world is Southern Africa and the southern tip of Africa continues to see rising numbers of new infections.

She said the conference organisers and scientific committee of 2009 have agreed that the conference reach should extend to neighbouring countries.

Professor Bekker said the National Strategic Plan is all at once comprehensive, challenging and ambitious, noting a need to examine the evidence of how these goals can be achieved critically, assess feasibility and then remove all obstacles and barriers to implement as widely and as efficiently as possible.

"We need to identify the gaps in the evidence and systematically set out to meet those knowledge gaps," Professor Bekker said.

The conference will include a number of different tracks including basic sciences, clinical sciences, epidemiology, prevention and public health, social and economical sciences, human rights and ethics, best practices and programmes as well as community exchange encounters.

During the conference, people involved in HIV and AIDS projects will have the opportunity to share their experiences with others in the field. This will include evidence based policy and practice as well as models of prevention, treatment, care and support activities in communities, the workplace and the media.

The conference will also highlight experiences and practices around community advocacy, broadly defined to include people living with HIV and impacted by HIV and AIDS, people vulnerable to HIV infection and those who interact with communities on issues relating to HIV and AIDS.

In his budget speech in February, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel added R932 million to the Health Department's HIV and AIDS grant in the coming financial year to extend the screening of pregnant mothers.

"We are budgeting to extend screening of pregnant mothers coming into the public health system and to phase in an improved drug regimen to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission," Minister Manuel said.

Mr Manuel said the government's anti-retroviral programme now covers 630 000 people and the medium term expenditure framework provides for an increase to 1.4 million by 2011/12.

He said the 2009 budget makes provision for further improvements in the remuneration of health professionals and for continued expansion of the hospital revitalisation programme.

The programme received a further R1 billion allocation in 2007 than the previous year, which took total spending to R6.8 billion over the next three years.