Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
The International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA), received a major boost after First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe pledged to revamp the Harare International Conference Centre — the venue of the conference — to the tune of $380 000, Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said yesterday.
Addressing editors from different media houses at an ICASA sensitisation breakfast meeting in Harare, Dr Parirenyatwa said Zimbabwe was about 85 percent ready to host the conference despite having only eight months to prepare for the largest HIV and Aids gathering in Africa.
In previous ICASA conferences, host countries would have up to two years to prepare.
“The First Lady has agreed to spruce up the venue of the conference, thus the chairs as well as carpeting and the costs of what needs to be done comes up to about $380 000,” Dr Parirenyatwa said.
He said identified key speakers and guests including First Ladies from other countries and leading scientists, confirmed participation at the conference slated for November 29 to December 4, 2015.
Dr Parirenyatwa said 5 000 delegates out of an estimated 10 000 people from civil society, activists and policymakers had already registered to take part at ICASA.
These delegates, Dr Parirenyatwa said, included people who were mostly affected by HIV (key populations) from other countries such as gays and lesbians.
“My key populations are commercial sex workers, long distance truck drivers, youths between 16 and 25 years old and people in prisons. They (gays and lesbians) are not a key population in Zimbabwe but ICASA has got to take an international flair and embrace all key populations of other countries,” Dr Parirenyatwa said.
He said the funding gap of about $3 million that had been an obstacle in previous weeks, was narrowing owing to donations from local companies such as health insurers and pharmaceuticals and also registration fees from delegates.
“Most of the major costs have now been taken care of. What is left now are the nitty gritties,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Initially, ICASA was supposed to be held in Tunisia, but had to be moved to Zimbabwe due to political instability in that country. Zimbabwe won the bid ahead of Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire.
Dr Parirenyatwa said Zimbabwe was found fit to host ICASA because of its success stories in reducing HIV infection, leading in mobilising domestic funding for HIV through the Aids levy and that the country was chairing AU, SADC and UNAIDS Health Ministers.
Speaking at the same occasion, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi, called on Zimbabweans to bid for conferences to be hosted here as it helped improve the country’s brand.
Eng Mzembi said although he could not quantify how much had so far been realised from hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in 2013 as well as the Jehovah’s Witness’ convention held last August, tremendous benefits were realised in the tourism sector.
He said over 20 000 international delegates attended the Jehovah’s Witness’ convention, the majority of whom were from the United States of America.
He said during the two-week period, all hotels in Harare and surrounding areas were fully booked and other delegates had to come from Victoria Falls.
With regards to the UNWTO, Eng Mzembi is on record saying the tourism sector benefited from a $150 million upgrading of the Victoria Falls International Airport and the overhauling of roads, water reticulation and sewerage systems in the resort town.
He said that there were huge intangible and immeasurable benefits of such conferences.
“The intangible benefits are immeasurable, they affect trade and they affect investment and it all starts with a visit,” said Eng Mzembi.
“The underpinning philosophy of visits, which is the only revolution of our contemporary times-together with ICT is openness.
“This business that you have entered into, Ministry of Health, it’s a $300 billion mega-business and your contribution is significant to the extend that it has now become part of our testimony and sales reference for future conferencing,” he said.