Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Matthew T. Harrington as Prepared for Delivery: Launch of the Blood Safety Information System

Delivered at Lesotho National Blood Transfusion Services

Khotsong bo-‘m’e le bo-ntate and welcome.

Before we start please allow me to pay my respects to:

His Majesty, King Letsie III,

The Right Honorable, the Prime Minister,

Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet,

Honorable Deputy Minister of Health,

Principal Secretary of Health,

Implementing Partners,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.  It is a pleasure to be with you today for the launch of the Blood Safety Information System (BSIS).   The BSIS will play an essential role in helping Lesotho combat one of its greatest challenges, the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  A big congratulations to Lesotho for being the first country in Africa to implement BSIS.  Well done!

Before I turn to the importance of this new system, allow me to also congratulate the government of Lesotho on a significant policy advance it took earlier this month.  On April 14, Lesotho launched a new Test and Treat policy.  Test and Treat will allow all Basotho diagnosed with HIV to immediately begin treatment.  Lesotho is among the first nations in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt such a policy.  This is a very important step, because it will allow many more people to access treatment and will save lives.

The United States Government is committed to working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to ensure that Test and Treat is implemented as quickly and effectively as possible.   The United States Government has, since 2007, committed more than $265 million to the HIV response in Lesotho (that’s nearly 3.8 billion maloti).   We are planning to provide an additional $51 million next year, including $11.8 million for the rollout of Test and Treat.

Treatment is essential to controlling the epidemic, but it does not work in isolation.  A safe and reliable supply of blood and blood products is also critical and that is what we are specifically marking here today.   Access to safe blood transfusions not only helps prevent transmission of HIV but also improves the quality of life for anemic patients on anti-retroviral therapy, maternal and child health and health outcomes overall.

Today, with the launch of the Blood Safety Information System (BSIS) we are taking an important step forward together toward achieving our collective goal of an AIDS free generation.

The U.S. Government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has invested more than $4.9 million in strengthening blood safety services in Lesotho.  With this support the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Service (LBTS) has significantly improved the quality of blood services in the country and increased the annual collection of blood from 3,000 to 8,500 units.  In addition, the new LBTS facility, which began operations in 2013, was built and equipped by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  The BSIS was developed through a multi-year collaboration between Jembi Health Systems Inc. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   The system facilitates the management of donor and blood safety information from the point of donation through the transfer to hospital settings.

The effective management of information for all blood services is critical.   This includes the monitoring – and exclusion — of blood donors based on HIV status, the tracking of blood donor results, and the improvement of laboratory quality.   The open-source BSIS will be used by LBTS and other national blood services across Africa.   At its core is an electronic information system designed to track information from the point of blood donation, through laboratory testing, processing, storage, distribution, and use at local hospitals and facilities.

The successful development and launch of the Blood Safety Information System here in Lesotho reflects a successful partnership among multiple local and international entities:   the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Service, the Ministry of Health, the United States Government through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jembi Health Systems in South Africa, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).

I want also today to personally thank the Manager of the LBTS Ms. Maleqhoa Nyopa for her leadership in bringing this system to the LBTS.  I understand the staff have been training very hard on this new system and are anxious to start using it.  The blood safety program in Lesotho is transitioning from one primarily supported by donors to one that is fully supported by government. We encourage the Ministry of Health to move ahead quickly with its commitment to transfer 17 CDC-funded LBTS staff onto the government’s employment roster.

Of course none of this software and none of these systems would work without blood donors, whose donations provide a unique contribution to the health and survival of others.  Thank you to all those who donate blood, for giving the gift of life.

In closing, allow me to also express my deep appreciation to all the physicians, nurses, laboratory staff, counselors, community mobilizers, and other health workers who have done so much to bring us to this point —  the startup of the Blood Safety Information System.  Your good work will save lives!

Khotso, Pula, Nala