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Reflections on the Toronto AIDS Conference.

Representatives of African civil society groups attending the 16th International AIDS Conference, held in Toronto in October 2006, warned that the conference theme 'Time To Deliver' may turn out to be an empty slogan, unless specific African targets set for universal access to HIV and Aids prevention and treatment by 2010 are met.

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At the African Union summit on Aids, TB and Malaria held in Abuja in May 2006, African leaders committed themselves to reaching the HIV and Aids treatment and prevention needs of all Africans by 2010. Yet, both African governments and the international community have not taken the necessary steps towards fulfilling these commitments.

Can Africa reach its targets?

"Nothing will be delivered until the global community supports the realisation of these ambitious but realistic targets by Africa," said Sisonke Msimang, a representative of the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and Aids, and head of HIV/Aids programmes at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. These targets include:

* Reducing HIV prevalence in young people between 15 and 24 years, by at least 25% in ALL African countries;

* Protecting and supporting in 2010, 5 million children orphaned by Aids and ensuring that 80% of orphans and vulnerable children have access to basic services;

* Providing access for at least 80% of pregnant women to Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT), and treatment for HIV-positive women and children;

* Providing treatment, care and support for at least 80% of those in need, particularly children.

Reporting back to Namibia

Kanjoo Mbaindjikua of Lironga Eparu, Namibia's organisation of people living with HIV and Aids, was one of the civil society representatives in Toronto. Reporting back on the conference at one of the monthly meetings on HIV and Aids organised by IBIS, she said there was a notable absence of high profile political leadership, indicating a lack of political will from governments to seriously address the pandemic.

Kanjoo noted that the women's movement was prominent--with passionate speeches about women's rights, and a women's march organised by the International Community of Women Living with Aids together with the World Young Women's Christian Association. However, many of these activities took place in the Global Village, where non-governmental organisations held lively events with representatives from all over the world. "We made a lot of noise about African women's issues in the Global Village, but African women were not strongly visible in the conference itself," said Kanjoo.

As one of her main aims in travelling to Toronto had been networking, Kanjoo spent most of her time in the Women's Networking Zone. "This was very productive," she reported. "For example, we made a connection with male activists from Lesotho who informed us that women living with HIV and Aids were still reluctant to disclose their status publicly in their country because of the stigma. We were able to exchange information and ideas with activists and collect materials from many other countries."

Kanjoo also used the space to launch her publication on young women's leadership that she developed while working in Geneva in 2005 as an intern with the World YWCA on its HIV/Aids and Young Women's Project. She plans to launch this in Namibia soon.

She said that while Namibia was acknowledged as meeting its set target for making anti-retroviral treatment available in hospitals across the county, the Namibian delegation was not well-prepared to showcase its work, unlike other African countries that presented informative displays.

Jennifer Gatsi of Parliamentarians for Women's Health also participated in the report back session held by IBIS. She expressed concern that there was no monitoring of Namibia's treatment roll out "to see what we area actually achieving," and said that her organisation has embarked on a community assessment programme. But her main concern was the large amount of money spent on the Toronto conference itself. "Will it make an impact?" she asked. "Would these funds not have been better spent in supporting people living with HIV and Aids in their daily struggle for survival?"
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Title Annotation:WOMEN AND AIDS
Author:Frank, Liz
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:663
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