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AIDS experts to meet in bid to save the African family
ABUJA (AFP) Dec 01, 2005
African leaders and health experts are to gather on Sunday in Abuja for a major conference to seek ways to protect the continent's families from the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

For six days the 14th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) will bring together opinion shapers like former US and South African presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela with doctors and development experts.

"ICASA is about solutions in Africa, for Africa by Africans. We want to make a real impact and start reversing the epidemic," said Femi Soyinka, president of ICASA, in a message to delegates.

"The family bears the brunt of the HIV epidemic: economically, socially and culturally. ICASA offers an opportunity to find new ways of strengthening family values like love, security, protection and support for the next generation," he said.

The conference will be held at the Abuja International Conference Centre between December 4 and December 9 under the theme "HIV/AIDS and the Family".

ICASA is the main biennial event bringing together Africans fighting HIV, a virus which is transmitted by sexual contact or receiving contaminated blood and which attacks the immune system, weakening the body's defences and usually leading to death from a secondary infection.

The African continent has thus far borne the brunt of a global pandemic of the disease; more than half of the 40.3 million people around the world who are estimated to have contracted HIV/AIDS live on the continent. Here, the disease is largely spread through unprotected heterosexual intercourse.

Close to 5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2005, over half of them young people aged 15-24 while more than three million died of AIDS-related illnesses this year, UNAIDS said.

When cases of the disease began to be identified in the 1980s the infection was little understood and by the time international experts were monitoring its progress it had a firm grip on populations in parts of Africa where health care and health education is under funded and patchy.

Ten years ago, less than 300 million dollars (255 million euros) was available to fight AIDS in developing countries but this figure has risen to about eight billion dollars this year, with about 40 percent coming from the poorest states themselves, according to the UN agency coordinating the fight.

But even if the money has started to flow, events like ICASA are still vital to coordinate the work of agencies, spread the best ideas discovered by health workers on the ground and monitor how the money is being spent, delegates told AFP.

"We all need to come together at this conference to think, debate and take decisions about our course of action," said UNAID's country co-ordinator in Nigeria, Dr Pierre Mpele.

One new event at this year's ICASA will be a "Leadership Forum" which will seek ways of keeping African leaders accountable to AIDS patients and donor bodies in the way they allocate spending and keep the public abreast of the problem and its solutions.

Leadership has become one of the key issues facing AIDS/HIV campaigners this year.

Earlier this month, the main body funding the global fight against the disease, the United Nations' Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, warned that it might freeze donations to Nigerian schemes if the country cannot give a better account of how earlier grants were spent.

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