Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote
National HIV Test, Counseling, and Treatment Day
Prince Takamado School, Bauleni Compound, Lusaka, Zambia
August 15, 2019
(as prepared for delivery)
Honorable Minister of Health, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya
UN Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
District Commissioner, Mr. Maximo Kankomba
I am pleased to be here with you today to continue to raise awareness around the importance of HIV testing, counseling and treatment. Over the next year, Zambia has the opportunity to reach HIV epidemic control—something that was once thought impossible. Knowing your HIV status, and starting and staying on treatment if positive, are foundational to this goal. I am proud to say that today through our strong partnership; nearly one million Zambians are accessing lifesaving HIV treatment—allowing them to live longer and healthier lives.
The U.S. government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, more commonly known as PEPFAR, began supporting Zambia’s national HIV program in 2004. To date, we have contributed more than $4 billion dollars in grant money, which will never need to be repaid. We are proud of this investment, of our partnership with the Zambian government, and of the progress made to date. UNAIDS reports that between 1990 and 2018 over one million (1,095,000) Zambians died from HIV. Today, the annual deaths from HIV have declined from a peak of 70,000 deaths in 2003 to 17,000 deaths in 2018. PEPFAR is a life-saving program that demonstrates the generosity of the American people.
Since 2004, there have been many advances in HIV services. Today, I plan to take an HIV self-test to help raise awareness about the availability of this service, and to demonstrate how simple it can be to know your HIV status. I hope that this will encourage all Zambians, but especially Zambian men, to not be afraid of knowing your status. Remember, ignoring your status will not change your status.
In addition to the importance of knowing your status, I would like to also take this opportunity to highlight the importance of starting and staying on treatment if positive. Even if you do not feel sick, delaying or stopping HIV treatment compromises your immune system. It makes it harder for your body to stay healthy over the long run. When you stay on treatment, the levels of HIV in your blood can become so low that you will not spread the virus to others. We refer to this as Undetectable equals Untransmittable, U=U. If you are on treatment, stay on treatment. That is the only way to remain healthy and protect those you love from contracting the virus. Remember, U=U.
In closing, I would once again like to take the opportunity to appeal to Zambian men: you have the power to protect yourself and your families from HIV. Most men in Zambia know their HIV status. If you do not, join them. And if you are HIV positive, start treatment immediately.
I would also like to appeal to religious leaders and communities of faith. I call on you to foster an environment that is supportive of knowing your HIV status, and starting and staying on treatment if positive. As I have said before, we need you more than ever, recognizing that your words and actions will play a determining role in Zambia’s ability to reach HIV epidemic control by 2020.
Finally, I would like to thank the Minister of Health, for his continued partnership and leadership. Epidemic control depends on an enabling policy environment, which the Minister has created. This is recognized and appreciated.