Please allow me to pay my respects to:
His Majesty the King
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister
Honorable Deputy Prime Minister
Honorable Ministers of the Cabinet, particularly the Minister of Health who is with us here today.
Other senior government officials
Colleagues and Friends
Bo-M’e le Bo-Ntate
I am delighted to join you here today at Scott Hospital for the launch of a new medical male circumcision project for Lesotho.
I feel particularly connected to Scott Hospital as it was here, in October 2014, that I had the honor of addressing a graduating class of nurses supported under the Nursing Education Partnership Initiative. That was my first public appearance as U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho.
Let me reaffirm today, what I said then, the United States is a committed partner to Lesotho and to helping the Basotho build a bright and prosperous future. Part of that commitment is our work, together, to fight HIV/AIDS.
Under the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States government has provided more than $225 million in bilateral support to help Lesotho combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
And today, with the launch of this program, we are marking our ongoing commitment; a commitment that reflects the deep compassion and generosity of the American people.
The science is very clear about the effectiveness of medical circumcision. We know that a man who is circumcised is 60 percent less likely to acquire HIV. This makes VMMC one of the most cost-effective tools for HIV prevention available to us today.
To date, PEPFAR has supported more than 6.5 million voluntary medical male circumcision procedures in eastern and southern Africa.
In Lesotho, the U.S. Government has supported the Ministry of Health in expanding VMMC services to 17 health facilities, including hospitals, across the country. Our program is administered by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by the non-profit health organization, Jhpiego.
In the previous VMMC program, through the innovative branding of Rola Katiba – Sesotho for take your hat off –we were able to increase demand for medical male circumcision services throughout Lesotho. Under the new program, we intend to build on that success, specifically targeting younger men aged 15 to 29. The goal is to persuade as many men in this age group as possible to be circumcised before they are exposed to HIV.
More than 80,000 men have already been circumcised through the previous initiative. The new project will help the Ministry to conduct a further 26,000 medical male circumcisions this year, while also improving the capacity of Basotho nurses.
Now it’s important to set the record straight on one important issue. I understand that in Lesotho VMMC rates go up in winter and down in summer, apparently due to a belief that circumcisions heal more quickly in winter. Let me assure you, that is not true. The season has no impact on rates of healing. Any season is the right season to care for your health and get circumcised.
Furthermore, men who choose medical circumcision can at the same time access HIV testing and counseling services. These are important health interventions that are underutilized throughout southern Africa – especially by men.
The U.S. Government is committed to continuing its collaboration with the Government of Lesotho against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in implementing our joint strategy to do the right things, in the right places, at the right time. VMMC is one of those right things.
So I encourage you all to get tested and to know your status. If you need to be on treatment, make sure you get on treatment and stay on it so you can stay healthy. As I emphasized in my World AIDS Day remarks – treatment works!
If you are a man and have not already done so, I urge you to get circumcised so you can significantly reduce your chances of getting HIV. Again, the science is clear about the dramatic preventive impact of medical circumcision.
And a strong word of advice. Remember, even if you are circumcised, you can still get HIV. To ensure that you and your partner are fully protected, it is essential always to use a condom.
And for the young women out there, it is important that you insist on condoms as well. Let me give you a very good reason why. Basotho girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have an HIV prevalence of 4.1%. That prevalence rate skyrockets for 20 to 24-year-old women — to 24.1%.
So please be safe, be smart, and protect yourselves. By protecting yourselves, you are protecting Lesotho’s future.