HEALTH

Durban hosts AIDS conference

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DURBAN’s readiness to host the 21st International AIDS Conference was reaffirmed on Friday, 8 April, as government leaders, civic organisations, AIDS activists, academics and eThekwini residents, joined hands in a colourful parade through the City’s streets, preaching the message of eliminating the disease by 2030.

The event marked 100 days to the start of the five-day conference to be held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre from 18 to 22 July 2016.

The parade, led by KZN premier, Senzo Mchunu, began at King Dinizulu Park and proceeded to the Gugu Dlamini Park where speakers from all spheres of government and AIDS organisations delivered crucial awareness messages about the virus.

Mchunu was accompanied by members of the Provincial Executive Council, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo, members of eThekwini Executive Committee and councillors.

The first time the conference was held on African soil was 16 years ago at the Durban ICC. Its return to the City is highly significant as the year 2000 conference was pivotal in focusing the world’s attention on the impact of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and fundamentally changing the course of the epidemic on the continent.

Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, extended the Presidency’s support and said that the country has come a long way towards curbing the spread of HIV in a video recorded message. “Today we offer anti-retroviral treatment to over 3 million people who are living with AIDS and we are pleased that mother to child transmission of the disease has been drastically reduced.”

Delivering the keynote address, Premier Mchunu made a firm commitment that KwaZulu-Natal and the City of eThekwini would not just be hosts, but they would make a meaningful contribution in the discussions aimed at finding lasting solutions to HIV and AIDS.

Co-Chair of the 21st International AIDS Conference, Professor Olive Shisana, explained why it was important to step up efforts of driving awareness of the virus. “The country has achieved a lot in this fight but we want to make sure that things happen fast and now. In the upcoming Conference we need to ask ourselves how can we work together towards faster and effective solutions of ending HIV and AIDS,” she said.

MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo told a media contingent earlier today that South Africa’s interventions in combating HIV and AIDS drew a lot of attention from the global community, hence the return of the AIDS Conference to Durban.

The world expects a lot from us because we have been able to turn things around from where we were 15 years ago. KwaZulu-Natal Province has over a million people on antiretroviral, ARV treatment and a number of other social and preventative programmes have been introduced to heighten the war on AIDS, – he said.
With over 20 000 delegates expected to descend on the City during the conference, a major boost to the local economy is expected.

MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube commended the strides that have been made by KwaZulu-Natal and since the 2000 Conference. “Significant milestones have been achieved even though we still have a long road ahead. For example, the life expectancy of our people has dramatically increased and our people can live up to 60 years as a result of access to treatment,” said Dube-Ncube.

Mayor Nxumalo said hosting the conference will have positive spin-offs for the City. He said an injection of R700 million and a 90 percent hotel occupancy rate has been projected during the conference week.

He said it was apt that the conference was being held in KwaZulu-Natal which has one of the highest incidences of HIV infection in the country.

A candle-lighting ceremony took place at Gugu Dlamini Park in memory of those affected and infected with HIV, and to light the flame of hope towards an HIV- free South Africa.

(Credit: Berea Mail)

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