World AIDS Day: Ambassador Foote Encourages Zambians to Cross the Finish Line and Defeat HIV

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote
World AIDS Day
Villa Grounds, Livingstone, Zambia
December 1, 2018

 (as prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia
Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, Honorable Minister of Health
Dr. Edify Hamukale, Honorable Minister of Southern Province
Your Worship Eugene Mapuwo, Mayor of the City of Livingstone
Dr. Medhin Tsehaiu, United Nations Resident Coordinator, ad interim
Fellow Diplomatic Colleagues
Foreign Dignitaries and Distinguished Invited Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
All other protocols observed

On behalf of the U.S. government, I am honored to be here to reflect on our impressive achievements in the battle against HIV/AIDS.  Today, we remember the lives lost, but we also celebrate the millions of lives that have been saved.  And most importantly, I urge you all to play a positive role—everyday—to reach epidemic control and eliminate HIV/AIDS in the coming years.  I’ll tell you how we can do that in a couple of minutes.

Today is the 30th year of World AIDS Day and the 15th anniversary of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  In Zambia alone, the American people’s generosity has saved more than a million Zambian lives, prevented hundreds of thousands of new HIV infections here, and brought the world closer than ever to controlling the HIV pandemic.

The United States continues its staunch leadership of impressive international efforts, and support of the Zambian government in achieving its goal of reaching epidemic control by 2020.  Through PEPFAR, we have provided over $3.5 billion in funding for programs from the community level to the national level.  In Zambia, this long-term commitment has yielded a remarkable decrease in new HIV cases by 50 percent.

Before U.S. and international interventions began, over 16 percent of Zambian adults were HIV positive.  Today, about 11 percent are HIV positive.

Before, less than 3,500 total Zambians were on anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines.

Within months, we will have over 1 million of you and your fellow citizens on ARVs.  In 2003, about 68,000 Zambians died from HIV-related illness.

Last year, 16,000 people here passed away.  While that’s less than a quarter of the number from 15 years ago, it is still 16,000 too many!

Zambia’s World AIDS Day theme for 2018 is “Run the Last Mile, Leaving No One Behind,” the perfect way to illustrate Zambia’s position in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The best runners, especially over that painful last mile, say, “Don’t stop when you are tired, stop when you are done.”

Has anybody heard about 90-90-90 epidemic control?  It means 90 percent of Zambians must know their HIV status, 90 percent of those living with HIV receive sustained ARV care, and 90 percent of Zambians receiving ARV care are in viral suppression.

Why is viral suppression important?  It means the amount of virus in the blood is low enough for HIV-positive individuals to live normal, healthy lives to the same, old age as everyone else.  And the magic is once someone attains viral suppression, and stays on their medicines, they no longer transmit the HIV virus.

I have met with many HIV-positive young people ages 12-24, almost all of whom were born with the virus.  Not only are they exceptionally brave, they are the most dedicated advocates to HIV/AIDS elimination I’ve seen.  Why do we stigmatize them, or anyone with the virus?  Stigma against any HIV positive person is stupid at this point, because if they take their ARVs, they’ll become virally suppressed, and cannot transmit the virus.  Remove the stigma!

Why?  Here’s a reason: Of those on regular, sustained treatment, 89 percent have the HIV virus under control with the antiretroviral drugs, and this number should approach 100 percent, as we ensure every HIV-positive person takes their medicines correctly and religiously.  Speaking of religion: religious leaders, please pray that suffering is eased, pray in thanksgiving that ARV treatment works, and ensure your congregations get tested, take, and stay on their medicines.  I would never presume to speak for The Almighty, but I am certain that my merciful God wants us to prevent further transmission, save lives, and eliminate HIV/AIDS.

I mentioned how far you have already run.  We are on the brink of controlling HIV/AIDS, but now it is critically urgent that we all fully commit to make the daily effort to ensure success.  Here’s the important part, and it’s not complicated!  We each must do a few things to win this battle:

  1. Get tested. Know your status.  Make sure everyone you love gets tested.  Take your children to get tested.  Make our young people get tested.  We only know the HIV status of 50% of your children under age 14, and only 45% of young women aged 15-24.
  2. If we test positive, we must all seek, and remain on, treatment for the rest of our lives, or until we find the cure. If you or a loved one tests positive, accept the challenge, love yourself and your family, and take your medicine.
  1. If you are on treatment, always stay on treatment and do your viral-suppression testing. With patience and discipline, the virus in your body will become controlled, and you’ll live a wonderful life and never pass the virus on.

People with HIV/AIDS must live with it every single day of the year, and many continue to transmit it, and die unnecessarily.  We mark World AIDS Day each December 1st, but we must work every day of the year to achieve an AIDS free Zambia, and indeed, world.  Thank you.