HIV prevention central to the AIDS response

15 June 2009

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This year’s Implementers Meeting was marked by a sense that the global response to AIDS has moved into a new phase – a time when it is necessary to take thoughtful stock of what has been achieved over the last few years.

The 2009 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting opened on June 10 in Namibia, drawing more than 1,500 participants from more than 55 countries around the world to Windhoek. With the theme : “Optimizing the Response: Partnerships for Sustainability”, this year’s meeting focused on optimizing the impact of prevention, treatment and care programmes, enhancing programme quality, promoting coordination among partners and encouraging innovative responses to the AIDS pandemic.

“This meeting represents a renewed call to all partners to continue working together to fight the AIDS pandemic,” said H.E. Hifikepunye Phamba, President of the Republic of Namibia who opened the meeting. “It serves as another important platform to showcase the successes that have been achieved over the years. This in turn should motivate everyone to persevere in the noble work that is being done.”

In his opening speech, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, a.i., Paul De Lay spoke about the global pledge to move towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and stressed that although a number of countries have taken great strides to reach universal access for antiretroviral treatment and prevention of mother to child transmission, there are many that are struggling to bring services to those who need them. He urged countries to continue spending on AIDS during the current economic downturn: “the life-saving programmes you are putting in place will yield dividends that last for generations,” he said.

The opening ceremony was preceded by a meeting between UNAIDS and United States Government representatives. The meeting discussed the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Partnership Frameworks between partner governments and other partners that will guide PEPFAR’s response to AIDS in the host countries through service delivery, policy reform, and coordinated financial commitments. The meeting was also a chance for UNAIDS and the US Government to establish a mechanism for regular communication in the future. UNAIDS expressed appreciation toward the US Government’s effort to encourage coordination and synergies at country level and increasing the efficient use of resources.

Kate Thomson, UNAIDS Chief of Civil Society Partnerships spoke about the UNAIDS’ commitment to promoting gender rights and equality and to remove punitive laws, policies and practices as well as the stigma and discrimination that hinder effective responses to HIV. In response, PEPFAR reaffirmed its endorsement of a rights-based approach and its commitment to creating more enabling environments. 

At a press briefing moderated by UNAIDS with the participation of key representatives from the Implementers Meeting co-sponsors, journalists and reporters  where introduced to universal access to treatment, care and support and were briefed on some of the key strategies and frameworks governing current AIDS work.

During the briefing, key issues surrounding HIV prevention were presented by Helen Jackson, Senior HIV Prevention Advisor with the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa. She stressed the importance of prioritising evidence-based interventions and the need to focus on combination prevention, that is, combining a series of behavioural, structural, and biomedical prevention approaches to achieve maximum impact on HIV prevention.

On June 11, one of the sessions moderated by UNAIDS focused on stigma and discrimination and presented a new tool to measure and understand HIV-related stigma called the, ‘People Living with HIV Stigma Index’. The Index is one of a number of tools developed over the last decade to measure and better understand HIV-related stigma. Kate Thomson, UNAIDS Chief of Civil Society Partnerships said that this tool is particularly important because “it can shape future programmatic interventions and policy change.”  “The Index will be a powerful advocacy tool which will support governments, civil society and activists alike to reduce the stigma and discrimination linked to HIV,” she added. 
On the same day, Susan Kasedde, Regional Advisor with the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa moderated a satellite session with the title ‘Knowledge Translation and HIV Incidence Measurement’. During this session, countries reported on the results of the “Modes of HIV Transmission” studies  they carried out last year with the support of UNAIDS and the World Bank.

“It was particularly interesting to hear from the country representatives on how the results of the Modes of Transmission studies have impacted on policy and strategy development at the national level and on the overall national discourse around HIV prevention,” said Kasedde.

In Kenya, the studies’ results have helped defined the country’s national HIV prevention strategy while in Lesotho, they have prompted the development of a national behaviour change communication strategy. Uganda has defined a new prevention policy and guidelines and has declared 2010 the ‘year of couple testing’ based on findings from the study that most infections occur in long term, stable relationships which were previously perceived to be low risk.

This year’s Implementers Meeting was marked by a sense that the global response to AIDS has moved into a new phase – a time when it is necessary to take thoughtful stock of what has been achieved over the last few years. The global economic downturn has heightened the need for reflection about what works – and what does not work – and to increase efficiency of programme implementations in all areas of the response to AIDS.