The 22nd edition of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA 2023) in Harare, Zimbabwe in December 2023 represents a tremendous opportunity to highlight the diverse nature of the African region’s HIV epidemic and the unique response to it.

According to the 2020 Global Fund COVID-19 Funding report, the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable communities across the African continent, and around the world. As such COVID-19 threatens progress made in mitigating the impact of HIV, TB and malaria globally.

It is important to note reprogramming of HIV, TB and malaria resources, over US$500 million, to the COVID-19 Response Mechanism has helped to dramatically alter the course of the COVID pandemic and at the same time hinder the progress on the continent’s HIV response. As such, this creates a very real and potentially hazardous gap in the fight to mitigate the COVID-19 impacts on lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programmes. Consequently, fragile health systems already on the brink of collapse are being overwhelmed and responses to HIV, TB and malaria, reduced, slowed, and in some cases, halted. However, we must not relent in our goal for an AIDS-free Africa. It is imperative for the continent to continue to learn from and rely on the dynamics of innovations and recent scientific advances, in a plea that will respond to the mobilization of internal and endogenous resources.

The biennial International AIDS Conference is the premier convening for all individuals, governments, communities working in the field of health as well as global and national leaders, people living with HIV, private sector partners and others committed to ending the epidemic and strengthening the health systems in Africa. It presents a tremendous opportunity for researchers, and clinicians worldwide to share the latest scientific advances, learn from one another’s experiences and expertise, and develop strategies for advancing all facets of the global collective efforts to end AIDS across Africa and around the world by 2030.

The Society for AIDS in Africa, the organizers of ICASA, is working in collaboration with its international and local partners to ensure ICASA will be an important opportunity to share the benefits of collaborations and partnerships with all countries across Africa.

ICASA 2023 comes a year after the UNAIDS Global AIDS Update 2022 Report entitled: In Danger- revealing the potentially catastrophic impacts of COVID-19 on health systems worldwide if we don’t take stock and shore up HIV health systems immediately. The International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, ICASA 2023, offers a unique platform for Leaders, Activists, Scientists and Community to take stock of the multiple and overlapping crises and with eyes wide open examine the devastating impact on people living with and affected by HIV. The new data revealed in the report are frightening; progress has been faltering, resources have been shrinking and inequalities have been widening. Insufficient attention, innovation, investment on the ground is putting the globe in danger: we face millions of AIDS-related deaths and millions of new HIV and STI infections if we continue on the current trajectory.

World leaders can end AIDS by 2030. However faltering progress has meant that approximately 1.5 million new HIV infections occurred last year—that number represents more than 1 million new HIV infections than the agreed upon global targets.

In West and Central Africa, new HIV infections continued to decline, with an estimated 160,000 new HIV infections in 2020, a decrease of 19% compared to 2010. Despite this decline, the region still has the second-highest number of people living with HIV in the world, with an estimated 5.9 million people living with HIV in 2020.

In East and Southern Africa, the number of new HIV infections remained stable, with an estimated 1.4 million new HIV infections in 2020. This region is still the most affected by the HIV epidemic, with an estimated 25.8million people living with HIV in 2020.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the number of new HIV infections continued to increase, with an estimated 70,000 new HIV infections in 2020. This marks a 23% increase compared to 2010, reflecting the ongoing HIV epidemic in the region.

ICASA 2023 is organized in partnership with the government of Zimbabwe and will be held from 4 to 9 December 2023. The Society Against AIDS in Africa is extremely pleased to partner with the Government of Zimbabwe, and various scientific and community leaders from the host country, as well as from Africa and the world at large, with long and impressive histories of leadership in Health systems strengthening. We look forward to continuing our focus on sustaining strong partnerships among science, global and national leadership, and across ALL communities in building a conference programme that will advocate for the end of AIDS by 2030.

In too many countries and for too many communities, there is a rising trend in the number of new HIV and STI infections. The COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions to key HIV/STI treatment and prevention services, key programmes for men and boys have been reduced, millions of girls out of school, and spikes in teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence have led to increases in HIV and STI transmissions.

ICASA 2023 brings together all the key stakeholders from across the African continent and beyond to share experiences and achievements of the remarkable progress made in reducing new HIV infections and increasing access to treatment. Very often new innovations in science and community led responses are introduced and highlighted within a uniquely African cultural context and gaps in Financing, health system strengthening and programming are identified and addressed further moving the response towards achieving the target of ending AIDS by 2030.

Utilizing the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic response, ICASA 2023 has incorporated three approaches; innovation, adaptability, and flexibility in organizing the conference. Organizers of ICASA 2023 will provide the necessary support to employ virtual, hybrid or in-person formats in organizing the upcoming ICASA with adequate public health and safety protocols. Partnership fees will not change regarding the virtual/hybrid conference since we are planning for more than 10,000 delegates, where at least 4000 virtual scholarships will be given to delegates from Africa to participate fully. This will increase the visibility of partners and scholarship recipients from Africa, the opportunity to participate since the continent is gradually adapting to virtual format of conference organizing.