The International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is a major bilingual international AIDS conference which takes place in Africa. Its current biennial hosting alternates between Anglophone and Francophone African countries. This year the 20th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa which opens today December 2, will be taking place in Kigali, Rwanda. According to the Society for AIDS in Africa hosting ICASA 2019 in Kigali Convention Centre will make it possible for those from across the region to attend the conference and share their successes and challenges on a global level. Africa has one of the largest populations living with HIV in the world. The conference will integrate the emerging infections such as Hepatitis and Ebola which is dramatically affecting one of the regions in Africa (SAA 2019).
This will be the first time the bilingual AIDS conference will be holding in Rwanda – a country which fragile economic base was destroyed by the 1994 genocide. The genocide severely impoverished the population, particularly women, and eroded the country’s ability to attract private and external investment. It is interesting to note however, with the hosting of the AIDS conference that Rwanda has made significant progress in stabilizing and rehabilitating its economy with the signing of an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility with the International Monetary Fund. Significant economic progress is also propelled with the country’s ambitious of embarking on privatization program with the World Bank.
Since the end of the 5 years civil war, Rwanda’s economy has undergone rapid industrialisation due to a successful governmental policy. In the early 2000s, Rwanda witnessed an economic boom improving the living standards of many Rwandans. The Government’s progressive visions – “of making Rwanda the Singapore of Africa” have been the catalyst for the fast transforming economy.
The Tutsi-led government in Rwanda after the genocide has taken up major program to improve the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on subsistence farming. The failing economy had been a major factor behind the genocide, as was overpopulation and the resulting competition for scarce farmland and other resources.
The government of Rwanda led by President Paul Kagame is focusing primarily on building up its manufacturing and service industries and eliminating barriers to trade and development. One important area the government is also focusing on is Tourism. The government of Rwanda is annexing its tourism potentials – using it to generate needed revenue for development by promoting Rwanda as a conference destination. The country’s conference tourism sector was expected to fetch Rwanda $74 million by June 2019, according to Rwanda Convention Bureau – Nelly Mukazayire.
Mukazavire said that in the 208/19 fiscal year the tourism industry generated $52 million in accommodation revenue from 35,000 international delegates. She maintained that in 2018 alone, 201 events were hosted in Rwanda. For Nelly Mukazayire, airlines, hotels, restaurants and other players in the tourism industry continue to be the biggest winners in conference tourism.
Available reports revealed that in the 2019/2020, RCB targets $88 million. To achieve this, Mukazayire noted in that report that, there are strategies in place including: continuing to be aggressive in marketing Rwanda as a tourist destination, which will require collaborations with private and public institutions and embassies to sell the country. “The Rwanda Convention Bureau intends to assert itself as key event organisational destination body within not just the country, or the continent, but globally,” said Mukazayire.
There is no gainsaying however, that the hosting of ICASA 2019 in Rwanda which is the premier gathering for all working in the field of HIV as well as leaders, people living with HIV and others committed to ending the epidemic is basically in line with the vision of the government of Rwanda as elaborated by the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB). ICASA 2019 is expected to receive between 7,000 and 10,000 delegates from nearly 150 countries, including 200 journalists.
The conference presents tremendous opportunity for researchers from around the globe to share the latest scientific advances in the field of HIV, learn from one another’s expertise, and develop strategies for advancing all facets of our collective efforts to end AIDS by 2030. Similarly, it highlights the diverse nature of the African region’s HIV epidemic and the unique response to it. The 2019 conference theme “AIDS Free Africa – Innovation, Community, and Political Leadership” engages the whole continent and all stakeholders in the Post-SDG Framework, where sustainability of the response in reaching 90, 90, 90 UNAIDS will not be possible if Human rights are not key priority for a new of leadership in the context of strengthening the application of science-based evidence.
The objectives of the 2019 conference includes:
- Promote community, scientific, and technological innovations for ending AIDS.
- Advocate for financing sustainable national health responses, political leadership, and accountability.
- Advocate for strengthened health systems and multi sectoral collaboration to integrate co-morbidities, emerging infections and NCDs.
- Rethink gender norms, human rights-based approaches and inclusion towards equitable and accessible HIV and AIDS services including Key populations.
- Promote youth-driven and youth-friendly approaches for anAIDS-free generation.
The Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) 2019