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AIDS Conference Ends in Harare

FILE - Flowers are laid as tributes to those killed in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at the base of a large sign for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 20, 2014.

A weeklong international conference that focused on AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in Africa has ended in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

Delegates discussed a reported shortage of anti-retroviral drugs to treat AIDS, and a lack of government funding for health care across the continent.

Medical researchers, HIV activists and health officials from across the continent met at the conference, known as ICASA, to look for ways to achieve an AIDS-free Africa.

The United Nations says there have been dramatic strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the world body says ending the epidemic by 2030 is a realistic prospect.

Immediate treatment

Zimbabwe's health minister, David Parirenyatwa, says immediate treatment for anyone diagnosed with HIV is one of the main steps toward that goal.

“So it is time to move on and implement the resolutions that have been enunciated here. Test [for HIV] and treat has come out very strongly. So once you are tested and you happen to be HIV positive, go straight for treatment. Are we able to afford it as Africa? This is where the international community comes in. This is where mobilization of resources comes in," said Parirenyatwa.

Earlier this week, medical aid group Doctors without Borders released a report saying Africa is facing shortages of anti-retroviral drugs – or ARV's.
The shortages are likely to get worse with new World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

The guidelines remove all limits on eligibility for anti-retroviral therapy among people with HIV -- if one tests positive should get treatment.

The U.S. global AIDS coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx, was one of the delegates at the ICASA conference.


She said the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has released additional funding to some African countries to help them abide by the new guidelines. She said some countries were managing on their own without much funding.

"We have been very encouraged if you look over the last decade at what South Africa, is doing to investment in the pandemic, if you look at what Namibia has been doing to control the pandemic, if look at what Botswana has always done. So there are countries on the continent that have resources and are clearly applying those resources to control the epidemic in their countries. We believe that more and more countries should make that investment," said Birx.

African countries are signatories to the 2001 Abuja Declaration, which stipulates that 15 percent of each nation's budget should be allocated to health expenditures.

But many countries have failed to live up to that pledge, including Zimbabwe, where most of the budget is spent on defense, civil servant wages, and travels for senior government officials.