Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Harvard-PEPFAR Tri-Country Conference: Researchers enjoined to build capacity and learn from each other

Abuja, Nigeria--Over 200 scientists, health workers, government officials, non-governmental workers, and media from around the world gathered to kick off this year’s Harvard-PEPFAR Tri-Country Conference, themed “Building Sustainable Partnerships in HIV/AIDS Programming,” on September 11th in Abuja, Nigeria. Among the speakers were the Honourable Minister of Health for Nigeria, the United States Ambassador for Nigeria, the Nigeria Country Director for Harvard School of Public Health and the Director General for the National Agency for the Control of AIDS in Nigeria.

Though building partnerships was one of the key points stressed by the speakers at the opening banquet, saving lives of people living with HIV was the main focus of the discussion. Providing the best high quality services for Nigerians infected with HIV, as well as providing information, education, and prevention methods, were stated as the main objectives of the three Harvard-PEPFAR programs in Africa. Manpower development, as well, is another factor that greatly contributes to preventing HIV/AIDS, according to Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello of the Senate Committee on Health in Nigeria.

Learning from each country’s project successes and failures was also a prominent theme of the opening ceremony. Senator Obasanjo-Bello stated that ‘We usually know more about our colonial masters than we do about our own neighbouring countries, which is something that needs to be changed if African countries are to learn from each other’s experiences fighting HIV/AIDS.’ The conference is meant to encourage such cross-fertilization of ideas, projects, and challenges faced by creating an open forum for experts from Africa and international delegates to discuss HIV/AIDS relief.

She concluded that the impact of the program was not only being felt by the people living with the virus, but also on the care givers and researchers as there has been tremendous increase in manpower capacity building. Her words, ”The capacity building of our people is what makes the greatest impact. The increased capacity to do the job well and maintain the international standard for treatment, care and support is something that will always remain with us, and for that we are grateful.”

Though messages of congratulations and thanks abounded in each speaker’s welcome remark, John Vertefeuille, Chief of Party, United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Nigeria was careful to remind delegates that more work needed to be done and more challenges needed to be overcome in the future.

“Though I thank you all, I want to ask you for your next commitment,” said Vertefeuille. “Our road has not yet come to an end.”

To date, the Harvard-PEPFAR program has provided life saving ART to over 59, 000 AIDS patients—12,000 from Botswana, 19, 000 from Tanzania and 28, 000 from Nigeria. The program was launched shortly after the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003, when one of the requirements for the application to the first Track multi-country PEPFAR programs was to have a minimum of 3 years experience in at least 3 of the PEPFAR focus countries.

*Reported by Amanda Hale

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