ICASA 2011 calls for increased partnerships to prevent MTCT
Addis Ababa, December 7– The third day of the 16th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2011 called for increased partnerships, in particular to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and to bring women’s health needs to the forefront of the struggle toward an AIDS-free world.
Yesterday’s conference kicked off with the daily Plenary Session which focused on health system strengthening, the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and the combination prevention approach in the response to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
Speakers in the plenary praised African countries for reaching high coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage for expecting mothers. “Mother-to-child transmission has to be contextualized within the constraints of maternal health,” according to Senior Program Advisor for HIV at UNICEF. “And we need to redouble our efforts in family planning.”
Although some African countries continue at less than 30 percent coverage of ART for pregnant women, countries like South Africa can rejoice in achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT, according to Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of UNAIDS Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“The next challenge is to reach the poorest women and link facilities to the most deprived communities,” she said, citing geographical coverage as one of the main components of achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT.
The highlight of the plenary session was the impassioned remarks made by Stephen Lewis, co-founder and codirector of AIDS-Free World, who fervently reminded the packed audience of the need to focus on women and prevention of MTCT, and urged them to use ‘treatment as preventions’, an approach which was first expanded five years ago, and tailored country-specific HIV responses to individual epidemics.
Lewis then condemned the Global Fund and donor countries for their “betrayal”, pointing out the moral implications of the decision to reduce funding and challenging the “artificial debate on dependency” stating that donor countries have “ransacked” the African continent for six hundred years, and thus, “have no right to withdraw.”
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