In Gambella city, the FDRE Ministry of Health, the Gambella National Regional State, and the Hailemariam & Roman Foundation (HRF) held a national HIV prevention summit & advocacy conference. The forum took place on March 1, 2024, with a focus on the theme of “Community Involvement & Leadership Commitment to Excellence.” Attending the event were H.E. Roman Tesfaye, the former First Lady of Ethiopia, senior officials from the Federal Ministry of Health, senior leaders from the Gambella National Regional Government, representatives from the FDRE House of Peoples Representatives, religious leaders, community representatives, as well as international donors and humanitarian organizations.

Her Excellency Dr. Mekdes Daba, the Minister of Health, emphasized the importance of addressing the risk factors that contribute to the transmission of HIV. She also pointed out that there is a need to fight against risk factors such as lack of complete awareness among the community about HIV, sexual violence against women and gender inequality, isolation, and discrimination against vulnerable sections of society and those with HIV in their blood, as well as harmful cultural and social customs and actions.

Dr. Mekdes highlighted that the Health Atlas of the Gambella region, published by the Ethiopian Community Health Institute in 2019, indicates that HIV is the leading cause of death and disability among the 12 health issues identified in the region. Dr. Mekdes highlighted that in 2022, Gambella had the highest HIV prevalence rate among all regions, at 3.69%. Recognizing the urgent need for action, she expressed her belief that a practical response from all stakeholders is necessary to effectively reduce the spread of HIV in the region. The Minister also pledged to undertake all necessary measures in accordance with a prepared roadmap to address the issue.

In her final remark, Dr. Mekede expressed her appreciation to Mrs. Roman Tesfaye for her significant contributions to early cancer diagnosis, healthcare accessibility, and HIV prevention within the health sector over the course of several years. Additionally, Dr. Maqdes extended her gratitude to the donors and participants who were present at the forum.

Honorable Ato Tenkuwe Jok, the Deputy Governor of Gambella People’s Regional State, emphasized the significant loss of lives in the region over the past three decades due to a lack of comprehensive understanding of diseases. He further emphasized the region’s commitment to prioritizing healthcare and ensuring that necessary attention is given to the health sector. In addition to this, he said that both the leadership and the concerned bodies should work with determination to make the health services accessible to the society to protect its own health in order to produce productive and healthy citizens.

During her keynote address, H.E. Roman Tesfaye, the former First Lady of Ethiopia and CEO of the HRF, emphasized that while there have been advancements in the collaborative efforts to combat the high prevalence of HIV in the Gambella region, the overall transmission rate remains a concern. This concern is further highlighted when comparing the transmission rate in the region to the overall prevalence rate of HIV in the country and other regional states.

H.E. Roman further emphasized the need for a comprehensive and sustained public campaign to bring about a widespread transformation in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, with the aim of preventing the harmful practices and cultural traditions that contribute to the high prevalence of HIV in the region. To ensure the success of this process, religious leaders, and community figures, who hold significant influence within the community, have been urged to leverage their role as mentors to educate their followers and raise awareness, thereby promoting the avoidance of detrimental practices such as child marriage, polygamy, and harmful behaviors in general.

During the event, Mr. Fakadu Yadeta, the Executive Lead of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office at the Ministry of Health, presented survey report that covered various aspects, including the prevalence of HIV at the international, national, and regional levels, the risk factors associated with HIV in the Gambella region, the effectiveness of the region’s response to HIV/AIDS, the challenges faced, and recommendations for improvement.

Following the presentation and explanation, participants raised numerous questions and comments, highlighting some key points. These points included the observation that hierarchical organizations in the region have neglected the issue of HIV, the fact that a significant number of refugees in the region were not included in the study document, the lack of commitment from leadership, and the failure to implement an HIV response that considers the unique characteristics of the region. These concerns shed light on the need for improved attention, inclusivity, leadership commitment, and tailored strategies to effectively address the HIV situation in the Gambella region.

Following the raised questions and comments, explanations and responses were provided to address the concerns of the participants. In conclusion, a steering committee, headed by the regional leader, and a technical work group comprising various stakeholders, including the University of Gambella, were officially established with the region’s approval. This establishment demonstrates a commitment to addressing the HIV situation in the region through coordinated efforts and collaboration among key stakeholders. The steering committee and technical work group are expected to play a crucial role in guiding and implementing effective strategies to combat HIV in the Gambella region.

Hailemariam & Roman Foundation

March 2024, Gambella