Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission David Renz at the World AIDS Day 2019

David Renz 
Deputy Chief of Mission 
at the World AIDS Day 2019 
Afar Region
December 22, 2019

(As prepared for delivery)  

It is an honor for me to stand here today among so many dedicated women and men working together to improve the lives of the Ethiopian people.

Thanks to the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Health and the entire Ethiopian government, as well as the work of thousands of providers and community agents, Ethiopia has made tremendous progress toward controlling the HIV epidemic, identifying People Living with HIV, and providing them with life-saving treatment.

It’s my privilege also to represent the United States, and PEPFAR Ethiopia, as we celebrate together our continued partnership with the Government of Ethiopia.

A partnership united in a common goal – to achieve sustained HIV epidemic control in Ethiopia.  A goal we’re tantalizingly close to realizing.

The PEPFAR theme for World AIDS Day 2019 is: “Ending HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community”.

It reflects the lessons we’ve learned about the importance of strong partnerships with communities and of delivering person-centered, stigma-free HIV prevention, treatment, and care services that meet the needs of each individual.

It also reflects the United States’ commitment to supporting Ethiopia and other partner countries as they work to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  A commitment we have sustained for more than 15 years.

Through PEPFAR, the United States has invested over $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response, the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.

These efforts have saved more than 18 million lives, prevented millions of new HIV infections, and moved the HIV/AIDS pandemic from crisis toward control — community by community.

PEPFAR has replaced death and despair with vibrant life and hope for millions of men, women, and children in Ethiopia and around the world.

The American people have been your partner from the beginning.

Through PEPFAR, the United States has invested nearly three and a half billion dollars to support the HIV/AIDS response in Ethiopia – to improve Ethiopian’s health and quality of life.

Today, our efforts support every region in the country, providing:

Lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for more than 460,000 people, including over 20,000 children – nearly 98 percent of the treatment offered nationally.

Testing and counseling services that have helped identify almost 10,000 new cases of HIV.

And critical care and support services to nearly half a million orphans and vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

PEPFAR has invested close to $60 million in critical health infrastructure that strengthens laboratory services, improves patient access to treatment facilities, and distributes lifesaving medicine throughout the country.

Lab results that once required nearly two months to receive are now delivered within a week.

This investment has improved service coverage and increased retention rates in HIV care consistently to 95 percent.

These are impressive numbers, and Ethiopia is justifiably proud of the progress it has made toward controlling the HIV epidemic.

But to really appreciate all we have accomplished together, we don’t need numbers and statistics.

We need only look to the difference we’ve made in the lives of the people we have touched.

I’d like to share with you the story of one HIV-positive woman, a mother of two children.  She recently spoke about how her life changed over the last two decades.  This is what she said:

That was a difficult time for my daughters, and me as well.  Every night when I went to bed, I felt like I would not see the sun the next morning.  Living the rest of your life with no available medicine means only a feeling of hopelessness and despair.  Even after I made my status a public knowledge, I had trouble with people discriminating against me and stigmatizing my children.

From a desperate mother pleading with others to look after my daughters, now I am a grandmother, and waiting to see the success of my daughters when they graduate from universities a year from now.”

This mother’s story, and the stories of thousands of other men and women like her, are the true measure of our success.

It is their stories that remind us why we fight so hard to end stigma and discrimination,

To ensure that all persons living with HIV know their status and receive quality, life-saving care and treatment services.

We’re getting so close.

Ethiopia is fast approaching sustained HIV/AIDS epidemic control, on pace to reach this critical milestone by next year.

This is great news, and a testament to the efforts and commitment made by the Ethiopian government, especially the Ministry of Health and Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office.

But make no mistake.  As we get closer to epidemic control, the work doesn’t get easier.  It gets harder.

The good news is there are fewer new cases.  Finding them, now that’s the challenge.

By concentrating our efforts where HIV has a disproportionate impact, we will turn the tide of the epidemic.

That’s why PEPFAR is firmly focused on the populations that data show are often being left behind – such as young women, children and other key populations – scaling up innovative approaches to reach them at the community level.

Our focus on data-driven decision making, mutual accountability, and transparency is increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our investments, with better analytical systems that target the remaining concentrations of cases, working community by community.

Together we’re using better case management and innovative index-case testing strategies to improve our success finding those elusive new cases, because men and women of all ages, in any at-risk group, should be able to know their status, get the treatment and services they need, and suppress their viral loads so they can continue to live meaningful and productive lives.

As this year’s theme reminds us, all epidemics are local—and working together with communities to respond to local needs is the best way to stop the epidemic in its tracks.

That’s why PEPFAR is helping Ethiopia’s public health professionals meet this challenge by strengthening our partnerships with regional health bureaus and local implementing partners to continually increase the impact, efficiency, and sustainability of our programs.

As we mark World AIDS Day 2019, the partnership between the Ethiopian and American people against HIV/AIDS is unwavering.  President Trump has made this clear.  In his World Aids Day Proclamation, he said:

While admirable progress has been made, it is not enough, and we must continue to work toward a vaccine and a cure.  Today, we reaffirm our commitment to control this disease as a public health threat and end its devastating impact on families and communities worldwide.

And so, to all of you here today, and to all Ethiopians, I promise the United States and the American people – through PEPFAR – will continue to leverage the power of our partnership with Ethiopia and with multilateral institutions and international organizations, civil society and faith-based organizations, and people living with HIV, to defeat this disease.

Working together,

We will end the stigma surrounding HIV and address the disparities facing people living with this disease.

We will further improve the lives of all Ethiopians living with or affected by HIV.

We will seize this historic opportunity to control and ultimately end the HIV epidemic, community by community.

And together, we will make our shared vision of an AIDS-free generation in Ethiopia a reality.

Thank you.