World AIDS Day Durbar 2019
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Stephanie S. Sullivan
Theme: Communities Make the Difference, Help End AIDS
Accra International Trade Fair Center
Sunday, December 1, 2019 | 10:00 a.m.
Chairman for today’s event, Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI,
Chief of Staff to the President, Honorable Frema Osei-Opare,
I ask permission to stand on all previous protocols:
It’s a great morning to be alive, isn’t it? This year’s theme for World AIDS Day highlights the role of communities to control, and ultimately end, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In short, HIV is not someone else’s problem. Communities and health care facilities must work together to make effective HIV service delivery more readily available to individuals and communities.
Sixteen years ago, at the outdooring of PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, HIV was considered a death sentence. PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation in history to combat a single disease. This lifesaving program has strong bipartisan support and is a shining example of continuity across administrations for an outstanding program.
To date, the United States has invested more than $85 Billion Dollars in the global HIV/AIDS response, with $68 Billion towards PEPFAR activities and $17 Billion in contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Working together with governments and partners in more than 50 countries, we’ve saved more than 18 million lives and prevented millions of HIV infections. We’ve transformed the HIV/AIDS pandemic from a global health crisis to a disease we can actually control.
Achieving HIV/AIDS epidemic control requires not only financial investment but also effective collaboration and mutual accountability between partner governments and communities. Partnerships are the cornerstone of PEPFAR’s success. We coordinate with multilateral partners, such as UNAIDS, the Global Fund, and the World Health Organization to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, strengthen partner country leadership and sustainability, and enhance service delivery.
Here in Ghana, the United States has a long history of partnership to combat HIV. We supported the “Love Life, Stop AIDS” campaign starting in 1999. Remember that catchy tune? I do. “If it’s not on, it’s not in!” Through PEPFAR, since 2008, the American people have invested over $110 Million Dollars to help Ghana combat HIV. Along with other partners, we support the Government of Ghana’s efforts to:
- enhance the overall quality of HIV services;
- institutionalize and extend outreach to key populations;
- overcome stigma and discrimination;
- improve access to viral load testing; and
- generate data for decision making and program planning.
Together, we’re making a positive difference in the lives of people living with HIV and reducing community vulnerability to the disease. HIV is no longer a death sentence – provided we reach those in need of treatment and that they remain on treatment. Let’s make it easier for them! Let’s focus on client-centered care, meeting patients where they are with what they need and reducing barriers to treatment, such as fees.
While Ghana’s commendably strong national policies and guidelines for service provision call for no fees for HIV testing, treatment, and related services, in reality, patients are sometimes asked to pay for services that should be free, such as for patient folders or for transporting their blood samples to laboratories. Such financial barriers prevent some people from accessing life-saving services. We must work together to monitor and eliminate all user fees for HIV/AIDS-related services.
In fiscal year 2019, PEPFAR supported the Government of Ghana to test 112,350 people; identify 8,194 HIV-positive people; and initiate antiretroviral therapy for 6,825 people. Starting in 2020, PEPFAR is dedicating additional resources to countries in West Africa, including Ghana, to focus on expanding access to services for key populations, such as female sex workers and Men who have Sex with Men. These key populations live with us in our communities, are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic, and must be reached for testing and treatment in order to achieve epidemic control. We want all people living with HIV/AIDS to access and remain on the treatment they need.
Stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV deter people from getting tested, seeking treatment, and staying on the lifesaving medication that will also stop the spread of the disease to others. When any member of a community is stigmatized or unable to access services, it threatens both their livelihood and the health of broader community. We must continue to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. They are our family members, neighbors, and friends.
Stigma is like a “chicken that comes home to roost.” This scourge has already taken enough of our dear ones. Since October 1, the U.S. Government has been focusing like a laser in the Western Region, to rapidly improve services for epidemic control by September 2020. How? you may wonder.
Through a joint effort to ensure that people of all ages and genders, and members of at-risk populations:
- know their HIV status;
- receive life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services if they are HIV-positive; and
- through medication, suppress the level of the virus in their bodies to the point where they can no longer transmit the disease.
This last point is easy to remember as U = U: if the HIV virus is Undetectable, it is Untransmittable, making treatment and care an essential part of prevention. Over the coming year, the United States will continue to work closely in a whole of government approach with health providers in the Western Region to deliver a standardized package of HIV testing and treatment services.
This includes PEPFAR support, through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), to implement effective approaches to identify HIV positive people and ensure they start and remain on treatment. USAID also continues to support Ghana to ensure an efficient supply of HIV medications without interruption, for last-mile delivery.
CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), will continue to support the Government of Ghana to collect and analyze data and conduct surveys to understand and confront changes in the epidemic. And the U.S. Department of Defense will continue to collaborate closely with the Ghana Armed Forces to help ensure a healthy military, for a safe Ghana and a more peaceful world. We hope to demonstrate in the Western Region that epidemic control is achievable and then replicate that success and lessons learned in other regions, so Ghana can achieve the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS “90-90-90” targets.
Mr. Chairman, a world without AIDS is in sight. For the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to control a pandemic without a vaccine or a cure, to make what once seemed impossible, possible. Together, we can control, and ultimately end, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, person by person, in every community. Now is not the time to be complacent, especially for our youth.