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Remarks By Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales At The World AIDS Day Commemoration Event, December 1, 2020
December 1, 2020

Remarks By Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales At The World AIDS Day Commemoration Event, December 1, 2020

Allow me to begin by paying my respects to

His Majesty King Letsie III,

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister Dr. Moeketsi Majoro and Her Excellency the First Lady Masekoalane Majoro,

Honorable President of the Senate,

Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly,

His Lordship the Chief Justice,

Honorable Deputy Prime Minister,

Honorable Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet,

His Lordship the President of the Court of Appeal,

Your Excellencies Heads of Diplomatic Corps and International Organizations,

Honorable members of the Senate and Principal Chiefs,

Honorable members of the National Assembly,

Senior Government officials,

Civil Society Organizations and PEPFAR Lesotho Implementing Partners,

Members of the Press,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to once again participate in the Kingdom of Lesotho’s national commemoration of World AIDS Day. It brings me great joy and pride to be with you today because Lesotho is a shining example to the world of hope, courage, and resilience. And accordingly, this year’s ceremony is quite momentous as we review the tremendous progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2020. As I begin, I reflect deeply upon the words: resilience and impact, and what they mean in terms of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Mountain Kingdom. These two words serve as the basis for the U.S. government’s World AIDS Day theme for this year. Resilience and impact describe the efforts contributed by each person who has personally invested in the work PEPFAR has done in Lesotho. I have had the privilege of meeting so many resilient Basotho, seeing the results of their efforts, and hearing their powerful, transformative stories. There are champions in every corner of this great country who have had a hand in changing the HIV/AIDS narrative in Lesotho.

Your Majesty King Letsie III, thank you for your enduring partnership across these many years. As the United States Ambassador, I firmly attest that our strong bilateral cooperation is the cornerstone of PEPFAR’s success across this beautiful country — we need all sectors and diverse partners working together to achieve our collective goals. This partnership has brought us to this moment right now, celebrating Lesotho’s incredible progress in achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

Lesotho’s success story is one that the world needs to hear as we are in the throes of a ravaging pandemic. Just yesterday, I stood beside Her Majesty Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso as she announced the preliminary results of the 2020 Lesotho Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment. I’m so proud to say that Lesotho is at 90-97-92. I must emphasize that these results are preliminary, but they indicate that Lesotho is at epidemic control. All Basotho should feel a sense of pride in knowing that the Kingdom of Lesotho will be added to just a small list of African nations that will have triumphed over HIV. What an outstanding achievement when you consider that Lesotho accomplished this in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Furthermore, Lesotho remained laser-focused in spite of having the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world and other daunting challenges. We were unrelenting; we were and remain steadfast in our partnership and commitment to fight HIV/AIDS, for our daughters and their daughters – for our sons and their sons.

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister Dr. Moeketsi Majoro, thank you for supporting the efforts of our global HIV/AIDS community. Thank you for always taking my call, supporting our PEPFAR program, and performing miracles to find resources to save millions of lives. Your leadership, first as Finance Minister and now as Prime Minister, has contributed to the critical wins that have brought us here today. In 2019, we worked very closely together to mobilize funding from within the government of Lesotho and the Global Fund for antiretroviral therapy. Without your engagement, countless Basotho would not have been able to continue on their life-saving treatment. Your resolute leadership, passion for your nation, and commitment to employing Lesotho’s resources to maximize the benefit for Basotho across the country, stand out as a critical best practice that made epidemic control possible. I am happy to preview that later today, Lesotho and Prime Minister you, in particular, will be featured alongside a select number of PEPFAR countries and their leaders at the virtual World AIDS Day event with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx. We can say that the nearly seven 7 billion Maloti investment in fighting HIV/AIDS is showing results. Thank you for working with us on this critically important virtual session.

In the spirit of this year’s theme, “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility,” I want to underscore the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in Lesotho and across the globe. PEPFAR investments have helped build effective, efficient, and sustainable health care delivery here in Lesotho. PEPFAR has worked across all segments of the population, paying particular attention to children and adolescents — including orphans and vulnerable children. PEPFAR has demonstrated a strong commitment to children, and accordingly, we have programs that ensure infants will be born HIV-free.

We realized in our discussions and outreach that we were still not contacting everyone we needed to reach. It was the support of Basotho faith leaders, who are with us today, and will sign a commitment to the HIV/AIDS response; that allowed us to reach those in need. Since 2019, PEPFAR has partnered with faith leaders through the PEPFAR Faith and Community Initiative. This program was designed to address critical gaps in our community-level engagement because faith leaders’ hold a unique position in our communities. We trust them, we follow their counsel, and partnering with them allows us to expand our HIV response. To faith leaders across Lesotho, thank you for joining the fight against this devastating disease. As we enter the “last mile” in epidemic control, you are vital to our collective response.

Please allow me to pause to highlight that today is day seven (7) of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. I think about the work we’ve done to support and empower adolescent girls and young women across Lesotho. Last week, Her Excellency First Lady ‘Masekoalane Majoro, the Minister of Health, Honorable Motlatsi Maqelepo, and I helped relaunch PEPFAR’s Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe, (or DREAMS) program. “DREAMS” provides adolescent girls and young women with education, support, training, and mentorship to keep them AIDS-free.

Following the relaunch, we had an opportunity to hear from several DREAMS Ambassadors – young women of courage who were willing to tell their stories of empowerment. We connected over the common belief that women cannot fully participate in HIV/AIDS prevention if they are victims of violence. What touched me most deeply was that these young women felt empowered to speak openly about the legal, health, violence prevention frameworks and support systems they think are necessary to create an environment where they can thrive. I am grateful for their wisdom, resilience, and courage.

Today’s commemoration serves as a moment to celebrate our achievements. As we look to the future, we must not take for granted the progress we achieved this year. Maintaining a stable and responsive national HIV/AIDS program will ensure Lesotho remains on the path to UNAID 95-95-95 goals by 2025.

To keep up this positive trend, the full range of HIV prevention and treatment services must be owned and operated by Basotho; that means local institutions, governments, and community-based and community-led organizations empowered to keep Lesotho on the road to being AIDS-free. Further, transitioning to local partners will increase direct HIV service delivery and establish sufficient capacity, capability, and durability of these local partners to ensure successful, long-term engagement and impact.

I conclude by reaffirming that the United States, as your longest-standing partner, is here, alongside you, to continue to save more lives, and prevent future HIV infections. We will continue to provide resources and support the proven activities that pushed this Kingdom towards epidemic control, ultimately ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a public health threat. Allow me to close by thanking the people of Lesotho for their tremendous courage, resilience, and impact. I am grateful for the continued partnership between our two great nations.

United We Stand! Lets’oele le beta poho!

Kea Leboha!

Khotso, Pula, Nala.