Excellency Premier of Kwazulu Natal – MR. SIHLE ZIKALALA
Senior Government officials present
Members of the International Community
Executive Directors of organizations of the UN System
SAA board members
Esteemed members of the ICASA 2021 Steering committee
Members of the local, national and regional civil society organizations
Colleagues, distinguish delegates,
Finally, let me acknowledge the people who made this conference happen -ICASA Director (Mr. Luc Bodea) and his team and the LOC Chair (Dr. Thembi Xulu) and her team.
Let me also reacognize our co-organizers the Government of South Africa, WHO AFRO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, VIATRIS/ Mylan and especially our distinguished delegates. Without you there is no ICASA 2021, you made it happen again in Durban.
As you are all aware this ICASA 2021 is more than unique. It is our first virtual ICASA, with 3426 participants coming from 67 countries. The conference provided 1144 virtual scholarships and 110 in-person scholarships; however, 450 delegates came to Durban before the conference reverted from hybrid to virtual. Our sincere apologies to them. As our first Virtual ICASA, we would like to apologize to all delegates that have experienced challenges due to internet or other related issues.
The past 6 days has demonstrated the unique nature of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). The 21st edition is coming to an end today, Saturday 11th of December 2021. The unique nature of ICASA is the interaction between the best scientists and Government High officials with grass root organizations. For these past 6 days we have shared knowledge, best practices and updated ourselves with 15 plenary sessions, 78 abstract driven sessions, 11 non-abstract driven sessions, 18 special sessions, 4 workshops, 3 pre-conferences, 86 satellite sessions, 24 community village sessions, 287 e-posters, supported by 415 speakers. In doing so, I believe we have met all our objectives for the conference.
There were great talks, Q &A sessions and great comments!
The outcomes of the discussions over the past days have highlighted significantly four main points out of many;
- The challenges posed by the COVID pandemic and how to translate the knowledge and shared experience into action to bring the epidemic to a halt in our various countries,
- The impact of the COVID pandemic on our health systems and other epidemics and diseases including HIV, TB and Non-Communicable Diseases and how to mitigate this impact.
- Containing current and future epidemics and pandemics on the continent through greater and strategic efforts to manufacture medicines, diagnostics and vaccines.
- Mobilization of domestic resources from both governments and the international community to tackle both COVID and the other epidemics in an integrated manner. It is believed that will ensure the objective of 2030 to end AIDS will remain a reality.
However, this ICASA 2021, is one important step on the way to strengthen our health systems in Africa, it shows our own resilience to come together despite COVID-19 challenges to first overcome our fears. As a continent we will need to pursue this effort and agree on our own priorities, action and most effective strategies. I would conclude by inviting all stakeholders, principally the Governments and the Media when sending out COVID-19 Prevention measures and protocols to jointly integrate HIV/AIDS prevention tools too. This is the way forward to 2030, the House of representatives or National assemblies of every country in Africa should be more vigilant now than ever to avoid passing any discriminatory laws that will infringe upon human rights and be destructive to achieve the goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
As we move forward, allow me to pose one or two important questions:
- With the raging COVID pandemic, how do we enlist the TRUST of our communities to accept the available vaccines – given the hesitancy and rejection across the continent and to adopt the simple but life- saving COVID PROTOCOLS?
- We heard a lot in this conference about the need for Africa to manufacture its medicines, diagnostics and vaccines - What should we do to bring the political capital to ensure collaboration and partnership between governments, WHO, researchers and the industry?
In conclusion, the fight against infectious diseases in Africa MUST be fought with more vigor and sustained through scientific research and technology to strengthening our health systems. All hands must be on deck including Africans in the Diaspora.
My last words of appreciation go to the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, the Deputy President, His Excellency David Mabuza, the Honorable Minister of Health Dr. Joe Phaahla, the Premier of Kwa Zulu Natal, Mr. Sihle Zikalala and the good people of South Africa for their support in ensuring a successful conference.
I thank you all for your participation and I wish our cherished delegates a safe trip back home and Healthy and prosperous year 2022.
Thank you and God bless us ALL.
Prof. John Idoko
ICASA 2021 President / Society for AIDS in Africa President