Remarks by Ambassador Matt Harrington as Prepared for Delivery: VMMC Winter Campaign Launch

Khotsong Bo-M’e le Bo-Ntate

Please allow me to start by paying my respects to

His Majesty King Letsie III

The Right Honorable, The Prime Minister

The Honorable Deputy Prime Minister

Honorable Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet,

Including the Honorable Deputy Minister of Health, who is here with us today

Honorable Members of Parliament

The Principal Chief of Mafeteng

Principal Secretary of Health

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Colleagues and Friends

I am delighted to join you here today in Mafeteng for the launch of the Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision winter campaign. Mafeteng is an especially appropriate place to launch this campaign because Mafeteng was the first district in Lesotho to implement the VMMC program in 2012. Since that initial launch four years ago, more than 111,000 Basotho men have opted for medical circumcision as a means to protect their health and that of their loved ones.

Ninety-five percent of VMMC procedures have been supported by the American people, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In partnership with the Ministry of Health and together with our implementing partner — Jhpiego – the United States hopes to support the circumcision of an additional 20,000 men in the next three months, with a focus on those between the ages of 15 and 29. Achievement of that goal would prevent approximately 1,500 new cases of HIV.

We are launching the winter campaign today because we understand that many Basotho men prefer to get circumcised during the colder months because they believe wounds heal more quickly this time of year. However, let me be very clear on this point: the time of year plays absolutely no role in how quickly a wound heals. Proper wound care, personal hygiene, and abstaining from sex during a recovery period will ensure quicker healing after circumcision, no matter the season or the weather. The VMMC program provides circumcisions throughout the year, as any season is the right season to care for your health and get circumcised.

And the United States government supports services year-round. For this campaign, the United States will contribute technical expertise, equipment and supplies. We also are providing camping gear so that teams of health workers can provide circumcision services at fixed and outreach sites in the five districts where the burden of HIV/AIDS is most severe.

The science is very clear about the effectiveness of medical circumcision. A circumcised man is 60 percent less likely to acquire HIV. This makes VMMC one of the most cost-effective tools for HIV prevention available today. I urge all Basotho men who are not circumcised to visit a health facility to access this free service and to help spread the word about this important procedure.

And to the Basotho women listening today, Bo ‘Me, you too have an important role in mobilizing your spouses, your brothers and your sons. Circumcisions have a huge benefit for men, as I’ve mentioned. But they also reduce the chances that their partners will contract sexually transmitted diseases or cervical cancer. It will take everyone, including husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, community and political leaders, traditional circumcisers, and the clergy to ensure that VMMC has the significant national impact on HIV that it is capable of having. Achieving the program’s very ambitious goals is possible, but it will require an energetic and collective effort.

The United States government has provided more than $265 million in assistance to help Lesotho combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and we will continue to stand by your side in this critical struggle. A key element of our support will continue to be the provision of VMMC services, using innovative branding and culturally sensitive approaches.

In conclusion, I want once again to encourage all Basotho men to get circumcised at a health facility. Having this procedure will significantly reduce their chances of being infected with HIV. Remember, though, that circumcision will not provide 100% protection against HIV. To ensure the best possible protection for themselves and their partners, men should both be circumcised and use a condom.

Please be safe, be smart, and protect yourselves and the people you love. Thank you.