Remarks by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales at the CRS/4CHILDREN “Celebrating Our Journey” Event, Manthabiseng Convention Centre, Maseru

Bo ‘M’e le Bo ‘Ntate

Good morning and welcome to all of you.

Before I begin, please allow me to pay my respects to:

His Majesty the King

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister

Honorable President of the Senate

Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly

Her Ladyship the Chief Justice

Honorable Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet, including the Honorable Minister of Social Development.

Colleagues from the Ministries of Health and Social Development.

Representatives of the National OVC Coordinating Committee, the National University of Lesotho, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, and other stakeholders

Representatives of Faith-based organizations and implementing partners,

Ladies and Gentlemen

What an honor to speak to you here today and celebrate all the progress made through the 4Children program over the last five years. The U.S. Government, through PEPFAR, is proud to partner with the people and Government of Lesotho and to work together alongside implementing partners like Catholic Relief Services and local organizations, to help Lesotho reach HIV/AIDS epidemic control.

At this moment, we are pushing forward with incredible urgency to reach this goal by 2020. We measure our progress in running this race by the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets. By next year, we want to ensure that 90% of all PLHIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people diagnosed HIV infection will receive treatment, and 90% of everyone on treatment will have viral suppression. Data show we have made great strides toward meeting these targets. Today, 77% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) know their status, 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV infection are receiving treatment, and 88% of those on treatment are virally suppressed.

However, there are still gaps we must address. While viral load suppression is almost at our 2020 target, it remains low among adolescent girls and young women.  Only 51% of HIV-positive females between 15 and 24 are virally suppressed, as a opposed to 88% in the general population. That is a huge difference between the realities for young HIV positive females than for other groups.  HIV prevalence is four times higher among females age 20-24 compared to their male counterparts.  In fact, a quarter of all new infections occur among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). These statistics are profoundly troubling to me.

Violence increases the risks that women face, especially adolescent girls and young women. When physical force or coercion plays into the sexual relationship, HIV prevalence among women in this age group is higher. Children in Lesotho also face significant risk of violence within their families and communities as recent survey data show.  Girls are at risk of being pressured or physically forced into sex and early child marriage.

That’s where DREAMS comes in. DREAMS, which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe, represents PEPFAR’s plan for addressing these challenges facing adolescent girls and young women. I always like to repeat what DREAMS stands for, because when I meet the incredible young women who have participated in this program – that is exactly what I see. Young women, who are Determined and who are Resilient, despite facing an uphill battle when it comes to finding education and economic opportunities. We must continue to ensure that they receive a comprehensive package of services so that they stay empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe, and can become the healthy, strong, and fully realized women they are meant to become.

Today we are here to show our support for our partners, both CRS/4 Children and our local implementing partners, and to thank the extended team on their job well done. Through your contributions and commitment, Lesotho is the second-best performing country in reducing new infections amongst AGYW and is considered as an OVC model country by PEPFAR. Because of that, CRS/4Children represented us in a high-level OVC global meeting to talk about finding, linking, and retaining the OVC in care.  On behalf of the U.S. Government and PEPFAR, I would like to thank CRS/4Children and their strong collaboration with clinical partners in making this a success. We are proud to know that other countries are learning from the work being done in Lesotho, and we are proud that these resources, which come from the American taxpayer, were used for the benefit of Basotho.

Reaching our 95-95-95 targets – that’s right PEPFAR wants to get to 95-95-95 – reaching those targets and epidemic control by 2020 is not an easy task. But let me stress and make crystal clear, we already have the tools to do it. We have the tools, we have the resources, and we know how to be engaged in the coordinated, multi-sectoral effort it requires, from all stakeholders.

It requires a renewed sense of urgency and commitment from everyone – from donors and government to communities and clinical partners. It requires envisioning a future for Lesotho that moves the country past the epidemic. To achieve that vision, we must involve every Mosotho and remind them they each have a role to play.  We want people to Be Aware of their risk, know their status, and learn about prevention. We want people to Be Honest with their partners, families, and health care workers so we can target HIV testing services to those most at risk, especially men and youth. We want people to Be Accountable and adhere to treatment, because in doing so, they can reduce the risk of transmission by suppressing their viral load.

If we commit our full strength to running this race to epidemic control, our prize can be a time in which the HIV/AIDS epidemic no longer defines Lesotho’s present or its future. I cannot think of a better gift or legacy to give these young Basotho, girls and boys – a future that is free of HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR is grateful for the efforts of the 4 Children initiative, and pleased that we will continue on this journey together through the faith-based and community initiative.

Re a leboha.  Khotso, Pula, Nala.