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[procaare] 6th HCC: Opening Ceremony


  • From: 6th HCC Secretariat & ProCAARE <procaare@healthnet.org>
  • Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2003 20:35:07 -0500 (EST)

Opening Ceremony
Back to the Baobab Basics of Community Involvement HDN Key Correspondent
*******************************************

The sixth Home and Community Care Conference for People Living with
HIV/AIDS got underway today in the Senegal capital Dakar. It is first
time the event has been held in Africa.

Unlike the opening ceremonies of many other recent AIDS conferences, the
inauguration of the 6th HCC was marked by its notable lack of pomp.
Following a stirring performance by the renowned native singer Baba
Maal, leading Senegalese activists, scientists and politicians
emphatically called for increasing access to HIV/AIDS-related care
services, and for greater roles of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA)
and affected communities.

In a welcome surprise announcement, the Senegalese President, Mr
Abdoulaye Wade, declared that subsidies for anti-retroviral treatments
in Senegal shall be immediately increased to 100% of ARV coverage. The
previous state subsidy of 90% still meant that many needy citizens could
not afford the drugs.

In his opening address of the conference, the President focused on three
major concerns: persistent HIV-related stigma and discrimination; the
need for greater access to ARVs; and the importance of more coordination
and solidarity in response to the epidemic. He also challenged
international agencies like UNAIDS and the International Federation of
the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to act in solidarity with
PLWHAs and to advocate for access to treatment.

In addition, Wade called for the Declaration of Commitment from the 2001
United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) to
become the reference that intensified and coordinated national responses
should be measured against, including through strengthened partnerships,
scientific research, and private sector efforts.

?African governments must take responsibility, and allocate budgets on a
sustainable basis,? he said. ?I will take a personal interest in
advocating about HIV/AIDS in NEPAD and G8 meetings.?

Jeanne Kouame, representing the various groups involved in organizing
the conference, felt that political and institutional indifference,
negligence and disdain regarding HIV/AIDS had left broad gaps in which
the disease had flourished.

?Heads of states are responsible for successes as well as failures,? she
said.

In direct reference to the recently announced WHO-led ?3x5? initiative,
which aims to ensure that 3 million people in developing countries
receive ARVs by the end of 2005, Kouame highlighted the ?long and hard
path? between beautiful statements and a person receiving treatment.

?Good note has been taken of the 3x5 objectives, and people want to be
part of that three million,? she said; adding a caution that
?announcements should not be wishful thinking, they should allow us to
share results and achievements.?

Kouame also argued that community groups of PLWHAs - such as Lumière
Action in Côte d?Ivoire and Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya - had emerged
to counter the widespread absence of institutional responses to
HIV/AIDS.

To exclude such PWHA groups from care and equal leadership roles, ?would
be tantamount to a failure of democracy to address the needs of
citizens? she contended.

Highlighting some of the traps that might emerge in the provision of
home- and community-based care services, Mireille Guigaz from the French
Foreign Office warned that community involvement in the provision of
care needs to be genuine, reflective and self-critical.

?Don?t imagine that community care will allow political leaders to avoid
their responsibilities,? she suggested. ?The convenience of sick people
remaining at home is not a reason for community- or home-based care,?
she added.

Marika Fahlen of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS
(UNAIDS), stressed that the public health organisations had to move from
planning and conscience-raising, to concrete actions against social
stigmatisation, lack of access to ARVs, and in addressing the vast
economic gap between rich and poor countries.

?This conference could bring further strength and recognition into the
work carried out at community level,? Fahlen said. ?The growing volumes
of financial and technical resources pledged towards the cause of
HIV/AIDS must reach out to support community response and not be blocked
in capital cities.?

Crepin Djemna, an activist from the Cameroonian Association of PLWHAs
(Colibri), said he had feared this conference might produce no concrete
actions from partners towards improved access to treatment and care.
Having listened to the opening statements, however, he was left with a
new hope and with a new expectation.

During his speech, President Wade described specific strategies for
Senegal to build a strong response to HIV/AIDS. ?From this Conference, a
real effort from other government leaders could follow Wade?s example,?
said Djemna.

President Wade warned delegates that if African leaders were to turn the
tide of the pandemic, they would have to go back to the basic core of
African societies and reject elitism. They had to return to communal
problem solving ?under the baobab tree?, an African symbol for community
strength and communication. The thunderous applause showed that 1500 or
so delegates who listened to the opening session wished to take their
place in the baobab?s protective shade.

HDN Key Correspondent
Email: correspondents@hdnet.org



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