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Kenya Prepares to Host International HIV Conference

Kenya is preparing to host a conference on AIDS in Africa that is expected to attract thousands of delegates from various fields to discuss prevention, treatment, and counseling.

The chairman of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, Dr. Dundu Owili, says the response to this year's ICASA conference is overwhelming.

"Today, I am telling you, it is just impossible: so many people ringing, coming up, even those who did not want to come are now coming to register again," he said. "That is why we have clocked 6,000 [delegates] today."

Every two years, the conference brings together African scientists, government officials, healthcare workers, and other AIDS experts to share ideas and experiences concerned with the fight against AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Statistics from U.N.-AIDS paint a grim picture. About 28.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV/AIDS, with 11 million children across the continent being orphaned by AIDS. It is projected that, from the year 2000 to 2020, 55 million Africans will have died earlier than they otherwise would.

This year, the conference is being held in Nairobi from September 21-26, and is being co-hosted by ICASA and the Kenyan government. The theme is, Access to Care: Challenges.

Dr. Owili says the agenda includes access to anti-retroviral drugs and drugs for opportunistic infections, vaccine trials, counseling and how to encourage African governments to take a more active role in controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa.

But Dr. Owili says this year's conference is unique.

"We have now invited more people suffering from HIV and AIDS than before, they are given scholarships, and they are coming to attend the conference," said Dr. Owili. "We have a youth forum, which is very important. Secondly, we have actually invited the first ladies. If they actually come [to] such a conference, they can easily sensitize, they can easily disseminate information."

A group of more than a dozen American delegates canceled because of a U.S. government advisory against traveling to Kenya due to the high risk of a terrorist attack. Kenya's officials disagree with the advisory.

The Ministry of Tourism and Information's deputy secretary, Henry Mung'asia, says he hopes the conference will help boost tourism and show the world Kenya is a safe place to visit. "There is no need for them to cancel," Mr. Mung'asia. "They are coming to the conference because the security situation in this country right now is normal. The government has put in place a lot of security measures to ensure that all the delegates attending the conference are safe."

He says some of these measures include beefed up security at airports and police presence in the streets.