Remarks by Ambassador Rebecca E. Gonzales on World AIDS Day 2018: December 14, 2018 at Manthabiseng Convention Center

Good morning.

Please allow me to begin today by first paying my respects to:

His Majesty King Letsie III

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister

The President of the Senate

The Speaker of the National Assembly

Her Ladyship the Chief Justice

Honorable Members of his Majesty’s Cabinet, particularly the Minister of Health,

Their Excellencies Heads of Diplomatic Missions & International Organizations

Senior Government Officials

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honored to be part of World AIDS Day, my first here in the Mountain Kingdom.  This year’s commemoration of World AIDS Day coincides with 15 years of the United States’ global commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS through the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and ten years of partnership specifically here in Lesotho.

With the postponements, I was concerned we might not mark this important day.  However, with today’s commemoration, I have the honor to announce that just yesterday President Trump signed the PEPFAR extension act of 2018, which extends provisions of the United States leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act 2003 for an additional five years.

Fifteen years ago when PEPFAR was enacted, less than 50,000 individuals were on treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. Since that time, we have come a long way together.  And I say “together” because it is a true partnership the government of Lesotho, our implementing partners, Basotho communities, and civil society.  Together we have progressed to where close to 220,000 men, women, and children in Lesotho alone are now on treatment.

Throughout its history, PEPFAR has had incredible support from the American people from lawmakers in Washington, through three presidential administrations and eight sessions of Congress. Under President Trump, with the ongoing bipartisan support of Congress, PEPFAR continues to expand its remarkable impact. We are very much driven by a focus on accountability, transparency, and ensuring that our investments are cost-effective, because we recognize that these are hard-earned American taxpayer dollars, and we’re deeply committed to using them wisely to save more lives.

PEPFAR has committed more than $80 billion to the global fight against HIV/AIDS over the past 15 years.   Right here in the mountain kingdom it amounts to is over 6 billion maloti to date in Lesotho, including over 1 billion this year alone. The current PEPFAR program remains committed to scaling up Lesotho’s antiretroviral treatment coverage to reach 95% nationally, rolling out self-testing, and expanding more efficient and effective testing strategies and treatment modalities, especially for adolescents and men – which includes dedicated men’s clinics and adolescent corners.

I have been traveling around the country, working my way across all the ten districts in my first year – to coincide with 10 years of PEPFAR in Lesotho.  I have visited nine districts already. Every place I visit, moved by the incredible collaboration between the PEPFAR colleagues at the Embassy, the Ministry of Health in the districts and at central level, our Implementing partners who are on the front line in this battle. Recently in Mohale’s Hoek, I met a young mother living with HIV, who is part of the “mothers2mothers” program.  This young woman had just given birth to the most beautiful baby boy.  Thanks to the treatment and care she is receiving, her precious son was born HIV free.  This is the most wonderful thing, seeing a baby born with a bright, healthy future. It is a testament to the fact that an HIV-free generation is possible in our lifetime.  HIV free generation remains in sight in our lifetime.  I also had an honor of visiting a Community Adherence Group in the area supported by the Lesotho Network of AIDS Service Organizations (LENASO).  This dedicated group supports each other to fight stigma and discrimination, and to ensure adherence to ART.

In the northern districts, I visited a Mobile Clinic in Maputsoe that offers comprehensive HIV services and TB screening to factory workers.   I was very happy to learn that they are access services and collect medicate on when it is most convenient for them and that those on ARVs are not ashamed or stigmatized. I was touched how the health workers developed such close relationships that their clients.  They even told me that bo-M’e from the factories will scold them if the mobile clinic has to change their schedule or miss their scheduled visit.

At this year’s United Nations General Assembly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the 2018 PEPFAR Progress Report. The report shows that, through the support of the United States government and our collaboration with partners around the globe, up to 13 high-HIV-burden countries, including Lesotho, are on pace to control their HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2020.

In conclusion, let me underscore the United States government’s sincere commitment to supporting the government of Lesotho in its efforts to triumph over HIV and to ensure that a healthier, more prosperous, and more secure future for all Basotho.

Khotso, Pula, Nala!