The Sunday News
Tendai Rupapa, Harare Bureau
HEALTH ambassador and First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa has received widespread acclaim for her commitment to fight HIV/Aids, and especially in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMCT) of the virus, ahead of the 22nd edition of the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA) 2023 to be held in Zimbabwe next week.
The conference — which will attract African First Ladies, health ministers from across the world and several other top-level guests, who have since confirmed their participation — will run from 4-9 December in Harare.
As a precursor to the main event, other delegates and First Ladies will meet in Victoria Falls for a high-level event. ICASA director Mr Luc Armand Bodea, who is also co-ordinator of the Society for Eastern Africa and has been in charge of organising the conference for more than 33 years, paid tribute to Dr Mnangagwa’s hard work and well-meaning interventions.
This came as acting UNAIDS country director for Zimbabwe Ms Jane Kalweo described Dr Mnangagwa as the champion for the country’s HIV response. She said the First Lady’s successes will be among the major highlights at the conference. Mr Bodea expressed confidence that the indaba will be a major success.
“We are very happy because we are ready to host many countries here in Harare and Victoria Falls. It is important that we pay tribute to the First Lady, Dr Mnangagwa, because she has been instrumental.
Because of her, we are hosting the first meeting with the African First Ladies in Victoria Falls. They will be coming to this meeting to talk about PMCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission), women and children, and how to end Aids at their level.
“It is also very important to see the commitment the First Lady of Zimbabwe has made from the beginning. Based on her commitment, we were able to put up the programme and have all these guests coming here. Let me also inform you that it is not only about the pre-conference, it is also about the main programme that will be organised in Harare,” he said.
ICASA is expecting to host about 6 000 delegates in person and about 1 000 others virtually.
“So far, we have about 4 000 people who registered physically and we have about 1 000 that are virtual. Don’t forget that ICASA will be both virtual and in-person. We also have common activities where we are inviting the public to come and share knowledge, learn about HIV, TB, malaria and also to come and share their daily living. We are expecting many people on a daily basis. Let me thank the First Lady of Zimbabwe, who pushed for this meeting to happen here, especially the pre-conference meeting, where we are expecting high-level engagements, with officials like ministers of health who are coming from all over the world,” he said.
Ms Kalweo said she was delighted by the commitment shown by the First Lady of Zimbabwe.
“The First Lady of Zimbabwe is our champion for the HIV response and I am delighted by her efforts to bring us together. As the UN family, we are excited about the upcoming high-level meetings of the First Ladies, the ministers of health and finance. The ICASA conference is a big meeting that is telling us that HIV is not over; it’s still an issue with us and we need to continue working so that we can end Aids as a public threat by 2030.
“It’s also a moment that we can look at and say, how can Africa sustain the HIV response? We are very excited about the response that we are having around ICASA and the preceding World Aids Day and looking at issues like communities, the health of communities. The high-level meeting where Amai is meeting other First Ladies will make sure that children are not left behind in the HIV response.
“Adults are getting treatment. They know their status, their viral load is suppressed, but when you look at children, you find that we are meeting a lot who do not know their status, and those on treatment are not doing very well. We are very excited about how Amai and the First Ladies are focusing on children so that we end Aids in children.
“ICASA is celebrating that Zimbabwe is hosting. We are very confident the Government of Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe will do a good job. Not only are we learning from other countries, but we are also going to showcase the great work Zimbabwe did on HIV response. It’s one of the countries that want to end Aids as a public threat, so we are very excited. I am also very excited with the commitment of the UN family,” she said.
Ms Kalweo said UNAids executive director Mrs Winnie Byanyima will be part of the programme.
“I am delighted to let you know that the executive director of UNAids will be coming for a country visit to commemorate World Aids Day and to be with the First Lady, Amai, and other First Ladies. The UN family is very delighted to be in support of Zimbabwe as a country,” she said.
National Aids Council chief executive officer Dr Bernard Madzima, who is part of the organising committee for ICASA, is upbeat ahead of the mega event.
“The events of ICASA 2023 will start in Victoria Falls. There is also going to be a First Ladies high-level meeting. First Ladies from various African countries will attend while some have sent in representatives. Ministers of health and finance from different countries will also grace the occasion to discuss issues of health, financing and sustainability using domestic resources.
“We are excited that the First Lady has managed to invite her fellow First Ladies to come to Zimbabwe to discuss ending HIV and Aids in children. This is the first time that the First Ladies are meeting outside of OAFLAD (Organisation of African First Ladies for Development) meetings. We are happy that Dr Mnangagwa has taken this initiative to invite her sisters and have a roundtable meeting outside of the usual routine meetings. After that, we will have the main ICASA programme on 4 December in Harare. In terms of preparations, we are 99 percent complete. We are inviting everyone to be part of the ICASA programme,” he said.