Thought Leadership

5th National Conference on HIV/AIDS announced

3 Mins read
It was great to see the announcement of the 5th National Conference on HIV/AIDS by the Conference Chair, Dr Oni Idigbe, President, Network For HIV/AIDS Research In Nigeria (NARN) and former DG Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos.

I remember the last conference vividly between the 2 and 5 of May 2005 and we should remind ourselves of this. It was a year before the ICASA (The African conference held in Abuja). These are my notes…

Nigerians had  gathered at the International Conference Centre in Abuja to share knowledge on HIV/AIDS. Since we won the hosting rights for the next International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in 2005, this conference was not only crucial in its scientific content but also in testing our organisational capacities and the challenges of hosting the week long ICASA next year.

An estimated 5000 participants registered for the conference. I have no knowledge of the funding mechanisms for participation but the crowds were huge. It was obvious at the time that the establishment of ARV treatment centres across the country had reinvigorated the medical community back to the forefront of the battle against the virus after they had initially abandoned the fates of their patients to frivolous cure claimants both from within and outside the profession.

Scientific Content:
This is obviously the most crucial indicator by which a scientific conference is judged. There were many very interesting presentations on results from behavioural surveys, knowledge and attitude surveys as well as reports on the implementation of advocacy campaigns. There were also very interesting presentations from civil society and faith based organizations and it was obvious that these two groups have increasingly mobilized in their response. One aspect that was obviously missing was useful operational research results from the several new ARV treatment centres all over the country. Despite implementation for about 2 years, I found no new results showing what aspects of treatment options work in Nigeria, and what the challenges are. We are loosing out on a major window of opportunity if we fail to describe the local challenges, as well as peculiarities in implementing treatment on the scale being done in Nigeria. The need for national operational, monitoring and evaluation data on programmes cannot be over-emphasized. The absence of a rapporteur sessions at the end of the conference cost participants the opportunity of a summary of key issues from the conference.

The role of PLWHAS
For the first time in my recollection, people living with HIV/AIDS stood up, confidently and courageously made themselves heard and seen on the scale seen at the conference. Women infected and affected took to the podium in the middle of the second plenary session and asked Nigerians to come to their aid. They stood there not as beggars but as active stakeholders in our country, mothers of our children and our future. PLWHAs, by their active involvement in the preparation for the conference as well as the conference itself, and this 

The Venue

The International Conference Centre is one of the edifices adorning the FCT. I found it in a relatively good state of affairs. The grounds around it were well kept, the air-conditioning was working and the lighting was good.

The magic of PowerPoint!!!
It was refreshing to see how much colleagues had familiarised themselves with presentation software programmes most notably Microsoft’s PowerPoint. However there is still a long way to go in developing skills in it’s appropriate use to enhance communication with the audience and not to impair this. While some presentation formats were good many were very poor and with the full use or misuse of  PowerPoint!
Logistics and Organisation

This was indeed a massive conference with up to six parallel sessions running after the plenary sessions daily. One full parallel session was cancelled on the first day….but all subsequent sessions held albeit often late. Registration was a pain on the first day, and the ushering and directions for participants to sessions were a disaster. There was obviously a lot to learn for the conference organisers, but also we as Nigerians also have a long way to go in comporting ourselves in public venues.

This conference had shown the extent of the challenge we face especially in terms of the managerial and logistic effort involved. The magnitude of the  numbers of participants almost became unmanageable and robbed the conference of some of the academic serenity needed to take in the vast amounts of information available for exchange at the conference.

The entry of the wife of the Governor and the deputy governor of Ekiti State with a team of mobile police men and an entourage of aides through the middle aisle disrupted the plenary on the first day. This should never be allowed at during the ICASA. Any important dignitary who needs their aides should be advised to drop their entourage at the entrance. A chief of protocol should be assigned for the conference halls as well as a small team, especially for the opening and closing ceremonies. There should also be seats reserved and contingency plans for late arrivals of dignitaries.

Please pass these on to the Chair…..unlike with our elections, we have to make progress on the last one.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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