Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Matthew T. Harrington

as prepared for delivery for the Site Visit to the Mafeteng Hospital for the Launch of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory

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 Minister of Health,

Principal Secretary of Health,

Implementing Partners,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning!

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to launch the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory for HIV Viral Load and Early Infant Diagnosis.

Many people have worked very hard to make this a reality, and I am delighted to see here today the latest example of the strong partnership between the Ministry of Health, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and our implementing partners.  Congratulations to everyone involved!

We all know treatment is essential to controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but treatment requires timely diagnosis and monitoring.  A quality-assured laboratory such as this one can make a big difference in reducing the burden of HIV on patients, and enabling clinicians to provide better management of HIV.  A top-notch laboratory also helps stem the spread of the virus by monitoring the viral load of people living with HIV (PLHIV) who are on antiretroviral therapy.  Measurements of a person’s viral load tell us whether antiretroviral treatment (ART) is working or not.  When a patient has an undetectable viral load that means their treatment is working and they are unlikely to transmit HIV to their sexual partner.

The Ministry of Health, with the support of PEPFAR and other partners, was the first African country to implement the Test and Treat approach for all HIV positive people.  The policy also includes routine viral load testing for all people on antiretroviral treatment.  The establishments of this Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory means Basotho in Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing Districts have access to timely viral load services.  With 26% of people living with HIV in these three districts, the additional laboratory capacity is an important addition to the national response against the epidemic.

Since it began functioning in July, the laboratory has provided viral load monitoring for more than 1,000 people on ART.  Going forward, the laboratory will play a crucial role in increasing adherence to ART and guiding adjustments of treatment regimens when needed.  I was pleased to learn that this lab will soon begin screening infants for HIV, which will double the national capacity for such screening.   Currently, mothers are waiting too long for their children’s results, when they should be focusing on their futures or — in the rare case of an HIV positive diagnosis — taking control and ensuring their child has the life-saving treatment he or she requires.  Given the critical role this lab is playing and will continue to play, we are delighted to have invested more than $100,000 to support it, through our implementing partner – University Research Council (URC).

Please allow me to congratulate the Government of Lesotho on the positive impact the Test and Treat policy has had so far.  From May to June, the number of HIV positive Basotho beginning treatment for the first time doubled.  Basotho came forward to be tested for HIV knowing that, if they were positive, they would be enrolled on life-saving treatment right away, instead of having to wait until they are sick.

Since 2007, the American people, through U.S. government assistance programs, have contributed more than $300 million U.S. dollars – 4.2 billion maloti – to fight HIV/AIDS in Lesotho.  Nearly 10% of those funds have been invested in strengthening the laboratory and health systems.  I am very proud that, as a result of the U.S. Government’s commitment to this critical effort, more than 129,000 people living with HIV are on ART and that 33,000 viral load tests have been conducted.  Of those HIV positive Basotho whose viral load was measured, 83% were virally suppressed and thus far less likely to transmit HIV to their partners.

This year not only marks 50 years of independence for Lesotho but also 50 years of partnership and diplomatic cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of Lesotho. For the last half century we have worked together toward our shared goal of a stable, healthy, and prosperous future for all Basotho.  For nearly a decade, we have been by your side in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and we will continue to commit substantial resources and work hand-in-hand with government, other external partners, and civil society to help Lesotho achieve an AIDS-free generation.

In closing, please allow me to thank the Chief Medical Officer of Mafeteng Hospital, the University Research Council, the Director of Laboratory Services of the MoH, and the PEPFAR Team for their leadership and support in making this critical service available to the Basotho who need it.

I also want to 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.

Your good work will save lives!

Khotso, pula, nala.