December 1 is World AIDS Day. This is a day to reflect on how far we have come in the global response to HIV/AIDS and to look toward the healthier future we envision. Our theme for World AIDS Day 2017 is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability and Partnerships.” This theme reflects the U.S. government’s longstanding leadership in addressing HIV/AIDS globally; increasing our impact and helping countries to move their epidemics from crisis toward control. It also highlights the historic opportunity to accelerate progress toward controlling, and ultimately ending, HIV/AIDS as a public health threat in countries around the world. Finally, it emphasizes the critical role of transparency, accountability, and partnerships in reaching these goals.
At the United Nations General Assembly in September, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched the PEPFAR Strategy for Accelerating HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control (2017-2020). This strategy reaffirms that the U.S. government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will continue to support efforts to achieve epidemic control in more than 50 countries, ensuring access to HIV services for all populations, including the most vulnerable and at-risk groups. It charts a bold course for accelerated PEPFAR-supported implementation in a subset of 13 high-burden countries, including Lesotho, which have the greatest potential to achieve HIV/AIDS epidemic control by 2020. PEPFAR will continue to support countries, including Lesotho, to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals so that 90 percent of people living with HIV who know their status, 90 percent of people who know their status accessing treatment, and 90 percent of people on treatment having suppressed viral loads across all ages, genders, and at-risk groups in the next three years. Epidemic control will only be attained when these targets are met for adults and children.
Through PEPFAR, the United States has helped not only save and improve millions of lives, but also transformed the global HIV/AIDS response. Over the last decade, we have invested $384,256,000 to support the HIV/AIDS response here in Lesotho. In real terms, this means that over the last ten years, PEPFAR Lesotho has provided voluntary medical male circumcision for nearly 170,000 men, HIV testing and counselling to 272,000 pregnant women, and antiretroviral treatment (ART) to over 70,000 HIV positive pregnant women to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. It also means that currently PEPFAR supports lifesaving ART for over 152,000 people, including 6,500 children.
The recent Lesotho Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) study was a successful partnership between the Ministry of Health, the U.S. Government through PEPFAR, ICAP at Columbia University, and the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics. We are indebted to all Basotho who opened their homes and gave their valuable time to the survey teams. The LePHIA data shows that Lesotho is making significant progress towards reaching the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals and provided updated prevalence, incidence, and viral load suppression estimates for adults and, for the first time, paediatric prevalence. This is exciting, however much of the work remains ahead. For LePHIA data to really make an impact, we must use the data to refine our efforts and to answer the questions: are we in the right places, targeting the right people, with the right programs?
The U.S. Government through PEPFAR looks forward to working hand-in-hand with the Government of Lesotho, our implementing partners, and civil society to answer those questions and continually improve our efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country. Together we move forward with the clear understanding that through transparency, accountability, and the power of partnership, we can accelerate progress toward reaching our goal of epidemic control.
Here in Lesotho and around the world, we are closer to controlling the HIV/AIDS pandemic than ever before – binding communities, activists, and political leaders together to envision a very different future. What once seemed impossible is now possible. But our work is far from done. The American people are proud to stand with Basotho in the fight against HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day 2017 and every day.
By Charge d’Affaires Daniel S. Katz, U.S. Embassy Maseru