10 things you have to know from the Aids conference

14 June 2019 - 15:08 By Claire Keeton
HIV self-testing is increasingly popular.
HIV self-testing is increasingly popular.
Image: Claire Keeton

The 9th SA Aids Conference in Durban ended on Friday with the eThekwini Declaration: "A Radical Call to Action - Reinvigorating and Revolutionising the HIV Response".

Here are 10 things you need to know from the conference:

  • "Reawaken the urgency of HIV and Aids as a devastating public health crisis still requiring an emergency response" – The eThekwini Declaration, handed to vice-president David Mabuza, who closed the conference;
  • This is why it matters - South Africa has 7.9-million people currently living with HIV and at least 4.4 million on treatment, but there is inadequate progress towards the UN 90-90-90 global targets: 90% of people will know their HIV status, 90% with HIV will get sustainable antiretroviral therapy, 90% on treatment will have viral suppression;
  • New HIV infections in South Africa are declining but the infection rate among young people, particularly teenage girls and young women, is still shockingly high;
  • Almost four women per 100, aged 16 to 35, are getting HIV every year, a study on the safety of three contraceptives including Depo-Provera found. The contraceptive is safe. Nearly 8,000 women from South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Swaziland took part in the clinical trial, and the results were announced on Thursday by Prof Helen Rees, one of the trial leaders and director of the Wits Reproductive Health Institute (WRHI);
Ndzuza Mludu, trainer at Partners in Sexual Health, showing some of the condoms which were free at the SA AIDS Conference.
Ndzuza Mludu, trainer at Partners in Sexual Health, showing some of the condoms which were free at the SA AIDS Conference.
Image: Claire Keeton
  • Professor of medicine Francois Venter, head of Ezintsha, a WHRI sub-syndicate, says of the ECHO results: "If ever there was a wake-up call for the family planning sector, this is it: we should be treating women accessing these services as an emergency for access to HIV prevention, especially PrEP –pre-exposure prophylactic treatment";
  • Key vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, need to be prioritised for better care and treatment, researchers and activists urged. They have higher infection and death rates. All groups on treatment in the public health system are at risk of antiretroviral drug stockouts, which are common;
  • The good news is that South Africa is at the forefront of HIV vaccine research. Four large-scale HIV vaccine efficacy clinical trials are taking place at research sites across the country, says Prof Glenda Gray, president of the SA Medical Research Council and director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network Africa Programmes;
Esther Githinyi, director at Kwazinto African Crafts which was selling wares at the Community Village at the SA AIDS Conference.
Esther Githinyi, director at Kwazinto African Crafts which was selling wares at the Community Village at the SA AIDS Conference.
Image: Claire Keeton
  • HIV/Aids donor funding to South Africa has reached a high point says Dr Fareed Abdullah, director of the Office of AIDS & TB Research at the South African Medical Research Council. Pepfar has pledged about US$730m for the current year and for the next year, following uncertainty about whether they would, and The Global Fund has increased its allocation to US$369m to South Africa for the next three-year cycle;
  • Despite this, HIV/Aids activists and clinicians raised concerns on and off stage at the conference that service delivery by some organisations, or "implementing partners", is threatened following unforeseen shifts in donor funding. They called for greater transparency and participation in the awarding of grants; and
  • The theme of the conference was Unprecedented Innovations and Technologies: HIV and Change. More than 3,000 delegates attended, about 25% of them from other countries. Prof Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya, deputy vice chancellor research & innovation at North-West University, chaired the conference.

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