HEARD Hosts International AIDS Economics Network Pre-Conference
Titans of AIDS economics came together for the 9th International AIDS Economics Network (IAEN) AIDS and Economics Pre-Conference in Durban on 15 and 16 July. The Pre-Conference was hosted by the network in collaboration with its organising partners the Health Economics HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, Avenir Health, the Rush Foundation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
This meeting of high level AIDS researchers, economists and policy makers initiated the conversation on the HIV and AIDS response as an antecedent to the International AIDS Conference 2016 at Durban’s International Convention Centre. The event served its purpose of bringing together practitioners and scholars to develop a more unified understanding of the present challenges that impede the end of HIV and AIDS and offered practical solutions to sustainable financing that would ensure the ideals of an HIV and AIDS free generation is possible.
Participants included key global figures in the world of HIV and AIDS funding, research, policy and activism, such as the Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, Professor Sheila Tlou, who delivered the welcome address. Tlou said there needed to be more innovative approaches to the AIDS response and that prevention was key to ending the disease in our generation. She also stated that key figures in policy should consider how their political will was translated and that domestic resources should be increased to ensure the sustainability of the response in our region.
A U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and United States Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, Ambassador Deborah Birx, delivered the keynote address. Her areas of financial concern, noted in the address, involved looking at sustained epidemic control in the era of flat funding and defining what an efficient sustainable response to HIV and AIDS really is. Other areas included examining the gender dynamics of HIV and AIDS where the aim was to reduce the amount of sexual violence girls experience and to increase the reach of the AIDS response to include men.
Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr Michel Sidibé, also made an appearance on Saturday during the high level panel discussion on the future of AIDS financing. Sidibé, received an honorary Doctor of Administration degree from UKZN in 2016, for his contribution in the fight against AIDS. Sidibé said UKZN is the first university in Africa to honour him with an honorary degree.
In his address, Sidibé remarked that ‘financing AIDS should be our main concern’. Sidibé said we had all the knowledge and tools to solve this issue and that members should start thinking about people who were excluded in society, and invest more towards equity. He noted that this would be a dollar investment with maximum return as ‘it is not about cost but true investment’. Sidibé declared when considering investment the world would need to think about how to sustain gain and fast track towards ending AIDS. He added that the global community would soon face a crisis of treatment for which he offered three solutions: a sustainable transition plan, access to ARVs at the best price, and better delivery of services. Other participants included Ministers of Health and Finance, members of UNAIDS, PEPFAR, the Global Fund, the private sector and civil society.
While key messages from global leaders contributed a profound understanding and depth to the current dynamics of AIDS funding in the world today, a message delivered by Mr Steven Forsythe of Avenir Health on Friday resonated deeply with what could be understood as the true power bank of the AIDS response as he hailed those researchers from African Universities as the true ‘heroes of AIDS economics’.
One such local hero leading the campaign towards more equality-driven financing in Africa was the Executive Director of HEARD and the Research Chair at UKZN, Professor Nana Poku, who acted as host and moderator at the two-day event. Supporting the values of a more transparent health care system based on human rights and equity, Poku lead the tough conversation with global leaders on the high level panel about the way forward in AIDS financing. Poku questioned the leaders on the implementation of goal-driven policies in the AIDS response, creating an awareness around the accountability of policy planning in ending AIDS.