Ambassador Lapenn Joins AU World AIDS Day Commemoration

Ambassador Lapenn joined Mrs. Monica Geingos, The First Lady of Namibia; AU Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma; and Acting Africa CDC Director Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma for the African Union’s World AIDS Day Commemoration on November 30, 2022.

Remarks as drafted

First, let me acknowledge the AU Commission for organizing this event.  The theme “Equalize” is apt and urgent as structural inequalities obstruct proven solutions to HIV prevention and treatment.

The U.S. Government has landed at the exact same place for our own theme: “Putting Ourselves to the Test:  Achieving Equity to End HIV.”

It means looking in the mirror.  It means listening.  It means hearing, acknowledging, and valuing the diverse voices of all affected ages, genders, and population groups.

You read the news, so you know the members of the U.S. Congress do not always see eye-to-eye on issues.  But ending HIV at home and around the globe?  For that, there’s an emphatic bipartisan consensus – for almost two decades, across every presidential administration, and from every U.S. Congress.

The United States has invested more than $100 billion in the global HIV response through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Program, or PEPFAR.  It’s the largest commitment ever by one country to address a single disease.  A program, by the way, that is so important to us, we only put the best-of-the-best in charge of it… Yes, our dear friend Dr. John.

The U.S. is also the leading donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

How does this translate to what is important: the well-being of all of our communities?  21 million lives saved, millions of HIV infections prevented, more than a dozen high-disease-burden countries achieving control of their HIV epidemic.

There are PEPFAR-supported programs at more than 70,000 facilities and community health clinics, including 3,000 laboratories.  300,000 health workers trained.  And impacts that are difficult to count, including enhanced disease surveillance, supply chain, and health and laboratory information systems.

The result is that AIDS-related deaths have been cut by 64 percent since their peak in 2004, and new HIV infections have been reduced by 52 percent since their peak in 1997.

Looking forward, achieving long-term sustainability in financing the HIV response in Africa in particular will require us as well as the entire HIV/AIDS ecosystem to substantially reorient the way we do business.

This is especially true considering our commitment to “Equalize.”

We need partner governments and dynamic community-led and populations-led organizations to lead and manage the response, because you all know your communities best.

We need your own vision and leadership, so development partners can rethink the structure of their operations to effectively use local capacity, improve alignment across donors and partners, find efficiencies, and support.  Just to emphasize that last point:  Support, support, support.

To do this, we need political leadership.  We need the same political leadership shown by member states during the 2001 Abuja Declaration at the Africa Summit on HIV/AIDS.

It is critical to bring the HIV/AIDS pandemic back to the political spotlight.  That will help unlock activities to ultimately lead to the long-term sustainability of the HIV program.

And this political commitment is essential to “Equalize,” or, as we put it, “Achieve Equity to End HIV.”

We need it to support enabling environments and erase barriers to quality HIV service access, such as stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, harmful policies, and discriminatory legislation that further marginalizes individuals.

As we join here together today to re-ignite the political commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat in Africa by 2030 – only 7 years away – know that PEPFAR is out there right now, alongside partners, continuing to assist additional countries in meeting the UNAIDS 95-95-95 HIV treatment target by then.

A goal that is achievable, and one that we are committed to supporting.