Would you like to go to the ICASA 2011 conference in Ethiopia?  It’s not too late…..

It was such a privilege for me to be at the conference and hear presentations from researchers from around the world.   This post is a gateway to that meeting for my students and readers.  I am providing a summary of some of the bolder plenary remarks, as well as highlights from some sessions that I attended.  Most importantly there is a link that will allow readers to browse the full program and all the presentations.

Challenging words from Stephen Lewis about the Global Fund: Lewis described the decrease in donor funding of the Global Fund as appalling and attributed especially bad behavior to the EU.  Dismissing economic causes, he characterized these decisions as valuing women and children in Europe and North American more than women and children in Africa, favoring fighter jets over human beings, and protecting defense budgets instead of millions of human lives.

Tewodros Melesse was a brave Ethiopian voice for dignity and rights for all:  Melesse emphasized the sexual and reproductive rights of women, children, adolescents and LGBT persons.  Speaking out against stigma and discrimination of all kinds,  he reminded the crowd that  there had to be respect for, and room for, differences of opinion. Melesse words were appreciated by many, especially session co-chair, Miriam Were of Kenya, who dubbed him an honorary woman for his advocacy and willingness to speak out.

The conference papers addressed HIV prevention, testing, treatment(s), co-infection (especially TB), prevention of mother to child transmission, and challenges in reaching and caring for highly vulnerable populations.  Participants reported on many aspects of the diverse and complex epidemic, which Peter Piot described as many epidemics, rather than one.  Researchers presented evidence about the feasibility of lifelong ARV care, male circumcision, microbicides, and care for discordant couples.  I chose to attend sessions that focused on health systems and multi-sector approaches, since that is the emphasis of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

From ICASA presentation by Fana Abay for Enda-Ethiopia

HIV and Agriculture:  This session, entitled promoting livelihoods for HIV/AIDS affected communities, featured rigorous research, much of it in Ethiopia, related to sustainable agriculture and economic empowerment.  Since I come from a community where local food and urban gardens and farmers markets have gained a lot of attention, I felt at home as I heard about strategies for urban populations that included bio-intensive gardening and small-scale dairy efforts through south-based NGOs.  This study documented improved CD4 counts!  A second study, which reported improved nutritional status, focused on low input gardens and local food production that increased access to eggs, vegetables, and beans. Another study explored the relationship between HIV status and land use, finding that 43% of HIV affected households have lands that they are not able to cultivate.  Strategies that address basic food security alleviate hunger, and they do so much more.  They can enhance the effectiveness of treatment, enable HIV positive persons to be strong enough to work their land, and they can contribute to reduction in transmission by reducing the incidence of transactional sex (girls having sex for money because they are desperate for food).  Community-based HIV efforts are increasingly  going beyond health care services to address hunger.

HIV and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs):  There has been much talk in the last few years that vertical programs like those that address HIV/AIDS could  contribute to overall health system strengthening, because of overflow benefits, such as the development of general clinical and management skills,  and the potential for more rapid horizontal integration of services. This session made the case that drug supply and quality assurance systems developed for ARVs could make it easier to develop similar systems for NCDs.  While insulin and asthma inhalers are expensive, many of the drugs needed to treat NCDs are affordable.  Presenters also stated that the MDGs neglect non-communicable diseases — and HIV care and monitoring fail to use the opportunity to detect NCDs, even thought HIV treatment likely increases susceptibility to some NCDs. With modest adaptations, HIV testing facilities could be adapted to test for diabetes, cholesterol, and BMI, and early diagnosis in the context of HIV care and monitoring would be possible.  Presenters also made the case that the trajectory of HIV care was similar to care for people living with NCDs. There is a similar focus on early diagnosis, continuity and multi-disciplinary, family centered care, as well as referral, self-management, and community linkages.  Therefore, the headway made in HIV care could be leveraged for more rapid and effective scale-up of care for non-communicable conditions.

 You can access and learn from the ICASA presentations and proceedings at the link below.  All the presentations are there. To browse the program and find presentations that interest you, scroll down toward bottom left and click on ICASA program book or ICASA pocket program.  Note the date, room and last name author and presentation title.  Then go to the folder and look in the room where the presentation took place for the file with the author and title that you noted (most are power points).

http://www.icasa2011addis.org/media-center/presentations

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