World AIDS Day – Remarks by Ambassador Virginia E. Palmer

Ambassador Palmer speaking at the commemoration of World AIDS Day 2022.

Remarks by Ambassador Virginia E. Palmer
World AIDS Day

December 1, 2022, 10:00 a.m.

Good morning!

I’m pleased to be here with you today to share this commemoration of World AIDS Day in Accra.

World AIDS Day is not only a time to remember the millions of lives lost to this terrible disease since the first cases of AIDS were identified 41 years ago. It is also a time to educate young
people and communities, and empower people living with HIV, as we move toward eradicating AIDS once and for all.

PEPFAR has been operating in Ghana for 20 years and has saved many lives. Let me tell you about one. Gifty is a 52-year-old woman residing in Ahafo region. She started getting sick and couldn’t understand why. She was ostracized by her family and community and even called a witch. Her business suffered. Her brother tried to help and get medicine – without even telling her what it was or what she had. The medicine ran out and her condition worsened. She became almost blind and was deathly ill. Then, a PEPFAR- funded HIV case manager came to her house. After counseling, Gifty was tested for HIV and immediately put on treatment. Today, her condition has turned around. She was able to restart her trading activities, selling at the local
market and receives regular customers without attracting discrimination or stigma. Gifty is among 342 people in four districts in the Ahafo region who were able to resume treatment thanks to PEPFAR.

In the last three years, the world and Ghana have been challenged with multiple disease outbreaks. As the COVID-19 pandemic finally was showing signs of slowing down, Ghana was hit with unprecedented Marburg and monkeypox outbreaks. Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine exacerbated already high levels of global food insecurity that have resulted from a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks, and humanitarian crises. More than ever, these emergencies highlight the need for us to work together. We need to strengthen public health surveillance and response systems and to create sustainable economic growth, to foster greater resilience.

The United States led the global response to COVID and mobilized donors to address global food insecurity. The United States is also a leader on global efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The United States has invested more than $100 billion in the global HIV response through PEPFAR and as the leading donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government has saved more than 21 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and helped over a dozen countries control their HIV epidemic. We continue to assist countries to meet the UNAIDS 95-95-95 HIV treatment target by 2030.

U.S. support for Ghana’s health sector is long-term and high impact. From maternal and child health, HIV, malaria to water sanitation, hygiene, and more.

In the past 14 years, we’ve invested over $140 million dollars to help Ghanaians slow the spread of HIV, while supporting people and families living with HIV with lifesaving medications.

Our collective efforts have resulted in a phenomenal increase in people who are on lifesaving and transmission-breaking treatment. “U” – Undetectable HIV equals “U” – Untransmittable HIV.

Together, we can break the cycle of transmission. Preventing new HIV infections and supporting those with HIV/AIDS is not just about medication, state-of-the art supply chain laboratory and information systems; it’s also about education and reducing stigma and discrimination about HIV infection.

PEPFAR Ghana supports community service organizations to address stigma, encourage people to get HIV testing and, for those who test positive, start treatment as quickly as possible.

Ghana still needs to bring its HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. This cannot be done by resting on our laurels or ignoring emerging threats to our collective work with the Ghana Health Services, the Ghana AIDS Commission, and other partners.

First, we need to work together to ensure that HIV-related commodities are procured with no interruption in treatment and test kits are available to identify cases. We must ensure that Ghana’s current economic crisis does not affect the availability of anti-retrovirals, HIV test kits, and viral load testing reagents. Public health depends on it.

Second, we must be vigilant about proposed policies that will negatively affect the fight against HIV/AIDS. I’m talking about the proposed anti-LGBTQI+ bill in Parliament, which is a threat to public order and public health, if people living with HIV, or those at risk of getting HIV are ostracized, marginalized, or stigmatized. We know that when people are stigmatized, they are less likely to get tested, and less likely to get treated. That leads to more cases.

Our progress will be set back if policies drive people living with HIV to conceal their status, hide their sexual orientation, and avoid testing and treatment. Such laws will have deadly consequences for the broader population as well. We saw that at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic 40 years ago in the United States.

We cannot achieve our goal to end HIV/AIDS as a global health threat if we deny people’s human rights, or if we allow discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

The global theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “Equalize.” This theme resonates here. We know that equitable access to health care is an important part of gaining control of the HIV/AIDS
epidemic here in Ghana. Ghana has taken the bold step to define its Universal Health Coverage Vision for 2030: “All people in Ghana have timely access to high quality health services irrespective of their ability to pay at the point of use.” Let’s continue our work together to erase barriers to quality HIV service access, such as stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, and discriminatory legislation that further marginalizes individuals – including the LGBTQI+ community, racial and ethnic minorities, and women and girls.

If those living with HIV/AIDS can access health care, testing, and lifesaving treatment without discrimination, we will achieve on our goals. If people are not stigmatized or otherwise discouraged from treatment, we will achieve our goals. As Ghana recovers from a serious macroeconomic crisis, we hope Ghana will continue to uphold equitable access to health care services and its commitment to achieving Universal Health Care.

So, emphasizing again the global theme for this year’s World AIDS Day: Equalize. I hope that someday we will commemorate World AIDS Day in a truly equal world, where everyone can equally enjoy their basic human rights without fear of criminalization or discrimination, where everyone has equal access to health care, and where the lessons we learned from defeating the AIDS pandemic will equip us to deal equitably and successfully with other health challenges.

Thank you!