ICASA: A chance to share knowledge on HIV, market Zim National Aids Council chief executive officer Dr Benard Madzima

Zimbabwe will be hosting the International Conference on Aids and STIs (ICASA) from tomorrow until December 9. Our Reporter Rumbidzayi Zinyuke (RZ) caught up with National Aids Council chief executive officer Dr Benard Madzima to get a perspective on ICASA and issues to be discussed.

RZ: Please give us a brief on the preparations for the ICASA 2023.

BM: The ICASA preparations have gone on well and we started the programme on December 2 in Victoria Falls with the high level meeting of the first ladies of Africa. They were discussing elimination of HIV in children. Prior to that we commemorated the World Aids Day in Victoria Falls.

The main event is in Harare and His Excellency the President of Zimbabwe will officially open the conference.

RZ: What does it mean for Zimbabwe to be hosting this premier event?

RZ: It means a lot for Zimbabwe to be hosting ICASA. This is a high level meeting which brings together leaders in the political and in the scientific arenas, civic society, UN agencies and all our partners who are engaged in the fight against HIV and STIs. As we speak, we have people from more than 50 countries coming to Zimbabwe. This not only brings prominence to health issues but its also about branding Zimbabwe as we get all these delegates coming in. With more than 5 000 people coming in it’s a boost for tourism, it’s a boost for marketing the country. It’s a platform to share knowledge and information about HIV.

RZ: Please share some of the topics that will be discussed.

BM: The ICASA programme is divided into the leadership programme, the scientific programme and the community village. The leadership programme talks to the high level presentations, which will be done by heads of agencies, political leadership and prominent people and this will be happening everyday in the main auditorium. Various issues will be tackled from health issues, financing, political will and adoption of policies. 

The scientific programme will focus more on research. We have had hundreds and hundreds of research topics and findings being shared. And these will be presented under the scientific programmes and they will run everyday.

The community village will have the civic society, the various interest groups working in various forums, the women networking zone, people living with HIV, the people with disabilities and exhibitors. These will be in the community village and that area will be free for anyone who wants to attend.

RZ: Zimbabwe is one of the few countries that have achieved the 95 95 95 targets. What lessons can we share with other countries at ICASA and what can we draw from other countries to be able to sustain the gains made so far?

BM: Indeed Zimbabwe has achieved 95 percent of people with HIV knowing their status, 95 percent of those who are positive are on effective Antiretroviral treatment (ART) and of those who are on ART, 95 percent of them  have their viral load suppressed.  We are sharing what we have done and how we have managed to do that with other countries who have not managed to do that. The most important thing is to see how we can sustain these gains and make sure that we end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Not only Zimbabwe, but other countries like Botswana will be here to share their experiences on how they managed to do that. As for Zimbabwe, one of our major achievements has been the issue of domestic financing using the Aids levy. It is a best practice which we want to share with the world that if you have domestic resources, sometimes you can achieve more and control that resource in a manner which then improves health outcomes.

RZ: How has the National Aids Trust Fund assisted in getting us where we are in the HIV response. Is the financing model sustainable or do we as a country need to consider other models of domestic financing to ensure we do not overly rely on donor funding in future?

BM: We are indeed a model for domestic financing. We are ring-fencing financing for health as the national Aids Trust Fund has shown over the years. We have demonstrated that we use the National Aids Trust Fund to buy ARVs, to buy laboratory equipment and consumables, to support development of strategic guidelines for the programme, we use it for community activities where we engage local NGOs in what is called social contracting so that they implement activities in the communities. We also use it to coordinate programnes in the districts and wards and bring everyone who is in the HIV sector together using the resources from the Aids levy. We want to demonstrate that it is important to have a domestic resource if you want good results.

RZ: Are we doing enough as a country to ensure that we meet the 2030 targets to eliminate Aids?

BM: We are doing a lot as a country and we are on track to achieve the 2030 target of ending Aids as a public health threat. At the moment we are seized with the key populations where we seem to be lagging behind so we have designed programmes which target these key populations. These include sex workers, adolescent girls, artisanal miners and any other such groups whose prevalence of HIV is lagging behind. These issues will be discussed at ICASA. 

RZ: Post ICASA,  where do we hope to be in terms of our HIV response?

BM: Post ICASA we will continue on the same path of using evidence to inform programmes. Now we say that let science lead. When we have generated evidence as an intervention, we want that to be implemented and as a country this is where we are headed. We are headed towards making sure that HIV is no longer a public health threat and we will continue to work on that. We are also heading towards what we call “let communities lead”. We want programmes to come down to the communities so they are in charge of the HIV prevention and treatment. We are also doing social contracting and ensuring that we support local organisations to lead in the HIV programmes. This is the thrust of our HIV programmes as NAC.

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