Driving back HIV/AIDS

The 6th SAHARA Conference, co-hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) is scheduled to take place from the November 28 to the December 2 2011 at the NMMU in beautiful coastal city of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, named after our hero, former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

SAHARA was established in 2002 by Dr Olive Shisana, while Executive Director of the Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health Research Programme of the HSRC and now CEO of the HSRC. SAHARA is an alliance of partners established to conduct, support and use social sciences research to prevent the further spread of HIV and mitigate the impact of its devastation in sub-Saharan Africa.

It has regional offices as follows: SAHARA West Africa Region based in Dakar, Senegal under the leader- ship of Prof Cheik Niang, SAHARA East and Central Africa Region, based in Nairobi, Kenya under the acting leadership of Sr Masheti Wangoyi and SAHARA Southern Africa Region, recently moved from South Africa to Maseru, Lesotho.

Its mission is to conduct HIV/AIDS multi-country studies that generate evidence for policy-making and programme development while at the same building individual and institutional capacities; and to effectively disseminate research findings from own studies through the SAHARA website, biennial SAHARA conference, our nationally and internationally accredited journal called SAHARA Journal and our network of researchers, policy makers and practitioners in more than 26 African countries.

NMMU opened on January 1 2005 as a result of a merger of the PE Technikon, the University of Port Elizabeth and the Port Elizabeth campus of Vista University. The university is an engaged and people-centred university serving the needs of diverse communities by contributing to sustainable development. NMMU is a medium-sized tertiary institution with about 25 400 students, 9% of the students are international students, mainly from SADC.

The vision of NMMU is to become a dynamic African university, recognised for its leadership in generating cutting-edge knowledge for a sustainable future. Its mission of NMMU is to offer a diverse range of quality educational opportunities that will make a critical and constructive contribution to regional, national and global sustainability. The partnership between SAHARA and NMMU on the SAHARA Conference came about as a result of the MOU that the two institutions signed in June 2010 to co-host the SAHARA Conference, among others.

The 6th SAHARA Conference represents a repeat of the unique characteristics that embody the five successful SAHARA conferences held since 2002 in different African countries. This conference is one of the largest of its kind, focusing on the social aspects of HIV/AIDS. It transcends the boundaries of biomedical paradigms, bringing together those involved in producing research and those at the centre of the epidemic in an interdisciplinary, multi-stage, and multi-sectoral environment.

It has a strong Africa focus with delegates from more than 34 African countries gathered to exchange information, views and experiences on recent advances in the field of the social aspects of HIV/AIDS in order to contribute to the much needed development and scale up of effective evidence-based HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care approaches and policies.

SAHARA Conference is a great networking opportunity bringing under one roof various HIV/AIDS stakeholders to engage in the HIV/AIDS African research agenda. The SAHARA Conference has a strong capacity building focus which is demonstrated by its Continuing Personal or Professional Development (CPD) accreditation status, an accreditation which demonstrates a commitment to structured skills enhancement and personal or professional competence.

The conference addresses a critical question which needs to be answered based on scientific evidence: “Are we turning the tide on HIV and AIDS? The social, political and economic landscape o HIV/AIDS”. The are has six tracks which attempt to answer the theme of the conference, namely HIV/AIDS Epidemiology, HIV/ AIDS and Human Rights, Most a Risk populations, HIV Prevention accessibility, uptake and adherence to treatment, and political accountability in the response to HIV/AIDS.

We are hoping that by the end of the conference we would have turned this question into a statement of fact backed by evidence showing the status quo in Sub-saharan Africa in terms of successes that need to be scaled up and gaps that need to be closed.

We have an impeccable programme, characterised not only by high level presentations from leading African and international scholars and diplomats, regional organisations government authorities and civil society representatives, but also by a warm Civic Reception hosted by the NMBM Executive Mayor, the SAHARA HEAIDS Summit facilitated by HEAIDS the Launch of the Eastern Cape HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Provincial Strategic Plan facilitated by the Eastern Cape AIDS Council, the World AIDS Day Commemoration including a candle lighting ceremony, the Luncheon to celebrate the publication partnership between Routledge Publishers and SAHARA Journal; the launch of a special SAHARA Journal special issue on MARP based on cutting edge conference presentations, the launch of a SAHARA Book proposal titled the theme of the conference, the viewing of the movie premiere titled “inside Story — The science of HIV/AIDS”.

We are particularly grateful to have Mr Bertrandt Ondoin, Executive Director of the International AIDS Society, Geneva, as one of the plenary speakers at the Conference.

We are also extremely grateful to our conference co-host, NMMU, in particular Profs Thoko Mayekiso (Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Engagement) and Prof Velile Notshulwana Notshulwana (Executive Dean: Faculty of Arts) whose names are worth mentioning for their visionary leadership, immeasurable involvement and support of the SAHARA Conference which culminated, among others, with their Institution offering their University as a sponsored venue for the 6th SAHARA Conference.

We are also extremely grateful to all our sponsors, who despite the current global economic crisis and a myriad of other funding demands, continue to support the SAHARA conference; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is worth mentioning as the third biggest Conference Sponsor after the two co-hosting institutions (HSRC and NMMU).To the rest of the partners, conference commit- tee members, colleagues, and all delegates, Merci beaucoup” to each and everyone of you; without you the SAHARA Conference would not have materialised.

To the SAHARA Family, you have done marvelous work behind the scenes.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial

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Phaswana Mafuya
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