The Hailemariam & Roman Foundation co-organized a high-level advocacy conference and training with the Ministry of Health and Afar Regional State in order to reverse the HIV epidemic in the Woredas having high incidence.  In attendance were Dr. Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health, and Mrs. Roman Tesfaye, former First Lady of Ethiopia, as well as Afar Regional State leadership bodies at all levels, religious leaders, and community representatives. The conference is scheduled for January 3-4,2024 and is intended to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care, and create a supportive environment for those affected.

Recognizing the heightened risk of HIV infections in the Afar Region, the advocacy conference & training focused on developing strategies to prevent new infections, increase access to testing and treatment, and reduce stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. The involvement of high-level regional officials and concerned stakeholders demonstrated a united front in tackling this pressing public health issue.

Mr. Yehaya Mohamed, the Head of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office of Afar Regional State, delivered an introductory message at the advocacy conference. He highlighted that 13 out of the 36 Woreda/districts in the region have a significant HIV/AIDS prevalence. He emphasized that the main cause of the escalating issue is primarily due to the mistaken belief within the community that the spread of HIV has declined. Furthermore, he stated that there is a prevalent stigma and discrimination against individuals with the virus in the region. As a result, those who are at risk of contracting the disease refrain from undertaking preventive measures, and individuals who have already been infected avoid getting tested or accessing the necessary anti-HIV medication.

Dr. Lia Tadesse, the Minister of Health for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), highlighted the necessity of a coordinated effort in implementing measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. She acknowledged that the leaders, religious figures, and community representatives in attendance at the forum will have a significant impact on addressing the epidemic in the 13 Woreda/districts with a high prevalence of HIV in the region. Additionally, she emphasized the importance of the religious leaders present at the forum taking on the responsibility and showing genuine concern for raising awareness among the specific segments of society where the virus is prevalent. This is crucial because there is a harmful practice of discontinuing medication due to an erroneous link with religious beliefs.

Lastly, she expressed gratitude for the extensive efforts undertaken by the Hailemariam & Roman Foundation to promote the health of mothers and children in regions of the country that highly need equitable development. She reassured that the Ministry of Health will continue to collaborate and coordinate with the foundation’s initiatives, as it has consistently done in the past.

Her Excellency Roman Tesfaye, former First Lady of Ethiopia and CEO of the HRF, delivered a keynote address at the forum. She emphasized that the collective and unwavering efforts made in recent years to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic have yielded promising outcomes both nationally and regionally; but from the perspective of the sustainable development goal and the national goal we have set to control the epidemic in all areas and sections of society in the next 2 years, we need to do a lot.”

Additionally, H.E. Roman underscored the importance of striving diligently to overcome the obstacles related to accessing and utilizing services. “We should work hard to address the challenges in accessing and using the services so that the sections of the community with more risk-taking behaviors for HIV can get a comprehensive prevention package including peer-to-peer education,” she stressed. She entrusted religious leaders and community representatives with the task of promoting HIV testing for all expectant mothers during antenatal care and encouraging them to give birth at healthcare facilities while utilizing services to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child.

Furthermore, H.E. Roman emphasized the significance of putting in considerable effort to overcome the barriers associated with accessing and utilizing services. She emphasized the need for dedicated work in addressing these challenges to ensure that community segments with higher-risk behaviors for HIV can receive a comprehensive prevention package that includes peer-to-peer education.

Furthermore, H.E. Roman stressed that the data clearly indicates a higher prevalence of the virus among young women and older men when compared to men in general. She proceeded to urge religious leaders and community representatives to recognize these women as their own daughters and sisters and to actively stand up for their protection from HIV. She entrusted them with the responsibility of educating, supporting, and encouraging these women to undergo HIV testing. She further stated that if individuals test positive for the virus, it is crucial for them to faithfully follow the recommended anti-HIV drug treatment without any disruptions, as instructed by healthcare professionals. Finally, Her Excellency expressed her gratitude to the FDRE Ministry of Health and the Afar Regional State for their genuine cooperation and partnership with the HRF.

During the forum, Mr. Fikadu Yadeta, the CEO of HIV prevention and control at the Ministry of Health, presented a study examining the response to the prevailing HIV/AIDS situation in the region. The findings were discussed, and participants had the opportunity to ask questions, which were addressed during the forum.

Hailemariam & Roman Foundation

January 2024, Afar Region_Semera