Feature story

Community dialogue space opens at ICASA

04 December 2011

L to R: President of the Society for AIDS in Africa, Prof. Robert Soudré, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, Jan Beagle, Commissioner Bience Gawanas of the African Union Commission opening the community village.
Credit: UNAIDS/J.Ose

The dialogue space dedicated to community organizations was inaugurated today at the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). The area, which is the heart of the Community Village at the conference, provides a space for grassroots and community based organizations to present innovative, local responses to the AIDS epidemic.

The community dialogue space of this year’s conference is organized by UNAIDS with support from UNDP, Irish Aid and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. It is an integral part of the Red Ribbon Award Initiative that recognizes outstanding community work on AIDS. The 10 African Red Ribbon Award winning community-based organizations from 2010 are running the community space.

Opening the Community Village, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director for Management and External Relations, Jan Beagle stressed that most innovative and successful responses have often come from communities that are directly affected by the epidemic. “Communities have been central in developing the UNAIDS vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” said Ms Beagle. “Ending the epidemic is a shared responsibility and together we can do it.”

The dialogue space is a physical area designed to encourage discussions and provide a meeting place for policymakers and activists. “We need to work together,” said Innocent Laison, Director of Programmes at African Council of AIDS Service Organizations. “We need evidence from science but we also need the leadership and the heart of the communities,” he added.

It is a shared responsibility of us all to end this epidemic and together we can do it

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, Jan Beagle

All sessions within the community dialogue space are purposely unstructured and encourage direct dialogue with the audience. Discussions will focus on issues such as the realization of economic, political and social rights, access to HIV services as well as addressing stigma and discrimination that still prevails in many communities in the region. Particular emphasis will be placed on human rights and key populations at higher risk of HIV infection like sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs.

The community dialogue space will also focus on community engagement in the recently launched Global Plan towards the Elimination of new HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive. Community representatives will also have the opportunity to discuss about their expectations on the community mobilization aspect of the UNAIDS investment framework.

The community dialogue space has been a regular feature at every ICASA conference since its inception in 2006.  UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations used the occasion to announce the launch of the 2012 round of the Red Ribbon Award, which will honor ten exceptional community organizations that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the response to AIDS.

The Association Penitentiare Africaine (APA) is an NGO from Burkina Faso that ensures that the HIV prevention and care needs of prison inmates are addressed and is one of the 2010 Red Ribbon Award winners. “The Red Ribbbon Award programme has been instrumental in strengthening our credibility and increasing the impact of APA’s work,” said Julien Tougouri from APA.

Other Speakers at the opening of the dialogue space included Rosemary Nburu, KANKO; Béatrice Kogoyire, Rwandan Network of people living with HIV; and Joel Gustave Nana, from African Men for Sexual Health and Rights.