As prepared for delivery
Remarks by Ambassador Michael C. Gonzales
National Commemoration of World AIDS Day
Kenneth Kaunda International Conference Center
December 1, 2022
Your Excellency, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, President of the Republic of Zambia
Cabinet Ministers Present
Honorable Minister of Health, Madam Sylvia T. Masebo, MP
Lusaka Provincial Minister, Honorable Sheal M. Mulyata
The Secretary to Cabinet, Mr. Patrick Kangwa
Her Worship the Mayor of the City of Lusaka, Ms. Chilando Chitangala
The Chairperson of the House of Chiefs, His Royal Highness, Senior Chief Nkula
UN Resident Coordinator, Madam Beatrice Mutali
Director General, National HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Council, Dr. Connie Osborne
Civil Society representatives
Ladies and Gentlemen
All protocols observed
It is my great pleasure to join the Government of the Republic of Zambia, UN family, civil society organizations, and others in recognition of World AIDS Day 2022. The U.S. government has supported the national HIV response in Zambia since 2004. Over that time, the United States has provided over 100 billion kwacha to strengthen health systems, promote counseling and testing, support orphans and vulnerable children, and averted literally hundreds of thousands of deaths. Today, through the generosity of the American people, 1.2 million Zambians receive HIV treatment at no cost to them, allowing them to contribute fully to Zambia’s future.
The purpose of World AIDS Day is to raise awareness of the ongoing HIV pandemic, to recognize those living with HIV as well as to remember those who have lost their lives to this epidemic. The theme of this 34th anniversary of World AIDS Day is “Equalise! Close the Gaps.”
The gaps are those inequities that prevent individuals from accessing life-saving prevention and treatment services. These inequities slow the progress to ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Today, I urge all of us assembled here now and to those listening to partner together to do our utmost to address these gaps, improve HIV service delivery, and ensure those most vulnerable are reached in the national HIV response.
We know that HIV does not affect all people the same way. It is critical that we support those who have been left behind or those who have not fully benefited from HIV prevention, care, and treatment to access HIV services. We must do this because they are our brothers and sisters, and it is the compassionate thing to do. We must do this because – as the pandemic has shown – if we leave any key element of society vulnerable, we fail in eradicating this scourge at both the national level and internationally. Those most at risk for HIV and those living with HIV but not on treatment must be engaged in ending HIV today by being tested for HIV, and, if positive, linked to treatment. Most importantly, we must collaborate to ensure they stay on treatment. HIV prevention, care and treatment must be done without fear of stigma, discrimination, or abuse.
This also means that children living with HIV must be put on treatment. With today’s HIV treatment, there is no reason children born today should contract HIV from their mothers. Yet we know that far too many Zambian babies are born or become HIV positive. Why? Because their mothers stopped taking their preventative medication for fear of violence or because someone told them it was bad. If you are living with HIV, I urge you to make sure your children are tested, so they too can live long healthy lives. Let’s not have another Zambian baby grow up living with this preventable and treatable virus.
This year, we are focused on closing the gaps of HIV prevention, care, and treatment for the populations most in need of HIV prevention for their future and for the future of Zambia. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEFPAR) is focused on the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission, pediatric diagnosis, and treatment. To get ahead of HIV, we must do more and do better to reach those who we are missing. And so, PEPFAR is specifically focused on preventing new infections in adolescent and young people, especially girls and young women. We must close the gaps in prevention and treatment services for sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, persons who inject drugs, and prisoners and others incarcerated people. Far too many adolescents and young people are becoming infected with HIV because they do not have access to prevention services or, when they go, they face stigma and discrimination. Fear and stigma will not just keep patients away from seeking care and treatment, but they will keep Zambia’s broader control of HIV elusive and unattainable. So, our fight against HIV must be a fight against the disease; we cannot afford to be manipulated into making it a fight against people. If we do, our best efforts to support a healthy Zambia will fall short.
To end HIV, we must stop new infections and ensure that everyone—regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation—can access prevention services without fear of stigma, discrimination, or bias. This means the barriers created by actions, attitudes, and/or biases toward those protecting themselves and their partners must end. We cannot achieve our goal to end HIV/AIDS as a global health threat if we deny people’s human rights or sexual and reproductive rights. We cannot end HIV/AIDS as a global health threat if we allow discrimination against people living with HIV or those who are most vulnerable to acquiring HIV to continue unchecked. Zambia’s future depends on it. An unhealthy population is not economically viable. An unhealthy population can’t lead industries. Healthy people are also more productive workers. It is all of our obligation to encourage our brothers and sisters, our children, and our mothers and fathers to get tested and, if positive, to get on life saving treatment. The time to act is now.
But, I also have some good news… Today, the Governments of Zambia and United States will jointly announce the release of the 2021 Zambia Population Based HIV Impact Assessment or ZAMPHIA, which was funded by PEPFAR in partnership with the Government of the Republic of Zambia. The ZAMPHIA helps to assess the effectiveness of past and current HIV prevention and treatment programs. It is a resource for local and global health researchers, policy makers and program planners. We thank all the incredible health care workers and survey conductors that were able to conduct this survey during COVID. Their dedication to the people of Zambia to get an accurate assessment of the HIV burden is commendable.
Today I have the honor of joining the Government of Zambia in announcing that Zambia’s progress towards the goal of HIV epidemic control has reached some important milestones. 88.7% of the estimated 1.3 million Zambians living with HIV know their status. 98% of those who know their status are on treatment. And 96% of those on treatment are virally suppressed. Let’s take a moment to absorb this. That means 96% of Zambians living with HIV and on treatment cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Let me put that in context. In 2016 – just six years ago – that number was only 59%! This is a phenomenal achievement and makes Zambia one of only five countries to reach this milestone. I commend the hard work of all partners and stakeholders in the national HIV response for making this happen. Congratulations to the Zambian government and the people of Zambia on this notable achievement!
And yet, our work is not over. We must close the gap on new infections, we must end the stigma, discrimination, and abuse that stops people from getting treatment and prevention, and we MUST get children living with HIV on treatment TODAY. We must remain vigilant here, because I fear that Zambia’s success in fighting HIV/AIDS risks fueling complacency. A new generation has been born over these past 20 years and they don’t remember the deaths, they don’t remember the daily funerals, they didn’t live through the horrors and human toll as AIDS wiped through this country extinguishing another one Zambian life after another every six minutes, and decimating the average life expectancy to just 43 years. The progress over these past 20 years – where together we have turned HIV from a death sentence to a manageable disease and extended Zambian life expectancy by a full two decades – this progress makes it easy for too many to become complacent. And that complacency risks reversing those hard-won gains. We cannot afford to let that happen.
That is why we must “Equalise! We must close the gaps. This is a call to action. Yes, Zambia has made great progress in controlling the HIV epidemic, but we have to do more. Barriers that hinder progress such as gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination, and lack of education still persist; they will hold back progress to ending the HIV epidemic. My country, my Embassy, my team, and I are committed to supporting the Government of Zambia to address persistent inequities experienced by vulnerable populations such as children, adolescents and young people; sex workers; persons who inject drugs; transgender individuals; prisoners; men who have sex with men; and persons with disabilities. We do this because we love them. We love them and we need them all. Zambia needs all of her children to contribute to realize this country’s full potential. Together we will close the gaps in the HIV response. This is why this year again, the U.S. government has committed $402 million (6.4 Billion kwacha) to the prevention, care and treatment of Zambians living with HIV.
More broadly, we must address the gaps in our overall preparedness to respond to emerging or re-emerging health threats like COVID-19, which can derail progress in the fight against HIV. We need to work together to close those gaps so we are better prepared to prevent, detect and respond to these health threats in the future.
In closing, let’s recall that inequity fuels the HIV epidemic and inequity puts everyone at a higher risk: every one of us. Let’s recommit to ensuring that we will not let that happen again. Let’s amplify the theme of World AIDS Day 2022 and “Equalise! Close the Gaps.” I urge you: go back to your communities and encourage people who do not yet know their HIV status to get tested, and if they are positive, to get on treatment and get their children on treatment and stay on treatment. With that, I say “Tiyende Pamodzi.” Let’s go together. Leaving no one behind.