Thursday, 4 October 2007

Harvard-PEPFAR Tri-Country Conference concludes in Abuja

Abuja, Nigeria—The Harvard-PEPFAR Tri-Country conference wrapped up on September 15 in Abuja, after an intense round of forums, debates, and interactive sessions sharing the challenges and successes of Harvard-PEPFAR’s HIV/AIDS prevention projects in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Botswana.

Patient adherence, hospital and lab infrastructures, and challenges of administering antiretroviral treatment in resource-poor countries were among the top topics discussed at the conference this year. Harvard-PEPFAR directors also elaborated on the need to build partnerships with local and international NGOs and health institutes over the next ten years, so as to transition to sustainable and completely African-governed programs by the year 2017.

The conference, themed “Building Sustainable Partnerships in HIV/AIDS Programming” took place at the Abuja Sheraton and Towers from September 11 to 15, 2007 and featured delegates and partners from Botswana, Nigeria, Tanzania and the Harvard University teams based in Boston and Chicago, United States. The two previous conferences were held in Botswana and Tanzania respectively and allowed in-depth review and visits to PEPFAR supported sites in the host country.
“We want to show the world that African institutions can responsibly manage these large programs,” said Dr. Joe. Makhema of Botswana’s Harvard-PEPFAR program.

The PEPFAR ten year plan also calls for treating more than 2.5 million people and preventing more than 12 million new infections in Africa. To aid this ambitious vision, President George Bush of the United States announced a five-year, $30 billion proposal in addition to the United States’ initial $15 billion commitment made in 2003.

The keynote address of the conference was presented by Dr. Phylis Kanki, Principal Investigator of the Harvard-PEPFAR program, and focused on overlapping uses of antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS prevention and therapy. Kanki’s presentation showcased the dilemma of researchers who struggle to create effective drug therapy in the face of high mutation rates and multiple AIDS subtypes that resist patients’ immune systems. The solution so far has been to overlap uses of antiretroviral drugs to target different subtypes, but according to Kanki this always runs the risk of generating drug resistance in patients.

There are no easy answers to the challenges facing researchers and medical staff in Harvard-PEPFAR’s programs, but as Dr. Joe Makhema stated at the end of the conference, “We need to carry these challenges on our shoulders and move forward.”

With plans for sustained HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment over the next decade, Harvard-PEPFAR will continue to be a leader in working with African institutions, international organizations and other partners to put accessibility, quality and sustainability at the center of all HIV/AIDS work. Next year’s Tri-Country conference will be held in Botswana, and will once again share the latest best practices and lessons learned from Harvard-PEPFAR’s treatment programs across the continent.

*Reported by Amanda Hale

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