ICAAP meet touted as a game changer for HIV/AIDS patients in Bangladesh

The upcoming international conference on AIDS in Dhaka has raised hopes that people living with HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh will finally be freed from social stigma.

“This year is critical for us for raising public awareness, building political commitment and strengthening our network and knowledge,” Habiba Akhter, Executive Director of the Ashar Alo Society that works with people living with HIV/AIDS, told bdnews24.com.

She made the comment on Tuesday, a day after the health minister announced that Dhaka would host the 12th edition of the largest AIDS conference for the Asia-Pacific region, known as ICAAP, from Nov 20 to Nov 23.

Bangladesh boasts as a low HIV/AIDS prevalence country, but the stigma runs very deep even with the healthcare providers.

A UN report shows up to 20 percent people suffering HIV infections avoid seeing a doctor for fear of being ostracised.

Social stigma means people are unlikely to come out for testing to assess their conditions.

ICAAP draws more than 3,000 participants from across the world, mostly from the Asia and the Pacific region.

The Dhaka meet will be the first global AIDS conference after the September UN General Assembly in which the post-2015 development agenda will be passed.

Announcing the event, Health and Family Welfare Minister Mohammed Nasim on Monday said this event would help them to take “concerted effort” to fight off the disease.

He was, however, concerned that any call of shutdown by the BNP-led alliance could mar the conference in November and joked that “foreigners enjoy hartal” after he had been greeted with “happy hartal” by a foreigner during Monday’s general strike.

UNAIDS Country Director Leo Kenny had said,“If Bangladeshis work together they can achieve anything. The progress on MDGs on maternal and child health shows this.”

“ICAAP will require Bangladeshis to work together even more strongly to ensure that the HIV epidemic remains contained,” he said.

Kenny was concerned that the minister’s ironic remark about foreigners enjoying hartals was misinterpreted.

“Indeed the minister was saying that hartals must not disrupt the ICAAP in November which is an important opportunity for Bangladesh to show the good work they are doing on prevention, treatment care and support and to galvanize regional and global support for the AIDS response in Bangladesh.”

The Bangladesh government and the inter-governmental agency Partners in Population and Development (PPD) are the co-hosts of the conference themed on “be the change towards an AIDS free generation: our right to health”.

PPD Executive Director Joe Thomas said it would be a unique opportunity for all since “it’s not a gathering of scientists only”.

On Monday, he said all relevant stakeholders including people living with HIV/AIDS, high-risk groups, civil society, and governments would come together at the conference.

The conference would highlight Bangladesh’s and the region’s ambition to achieve an AIDS-free generation through “science, innovation, community involvement with government leadership”.

Habiba Akhter of the Ashar Alo Society wants to grab this opportunity.

“When an international conference like this takes place abroad only a few of us can attend, but this gives us all a chance to convene, learn and share our experiences,” she said.

“The year-long activity ahead of the conference will make policymakers aware of the disease and how to work on it. At the same time, community people will know more by engaging themselves with their peers during the conference.”

By community people she meant people living with HIV/AIDS and those who run the risk that include commercial sex workers, injecting drug users, gays, hijras, among others.

by Nurul Islam Hasib
Source – bdnews24.com