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Ambassador Leonard’s Welcome Remarks World AIDS Day 2022 Reception
December 1, 2022

Good afternoon and welcome everyone.  We are so pleased all of you could join us here today to not only commemorate World AIDS Day but to celebrate your individual contributions to National response efforts.  Nigeria’s position as a regional leader in HIV/AIDS programming is possible because of your trust in the power of partnerships, your collective willingness to listen to beneficiaries, and your meaningful engagement with civil society.  We commend the Government of Nigeria, especially Lagos State officials represented here today, for your steadfast leadership and our implementing partners who continue to innovate and apply new scientific advances.

The U.S. government has invested over $7.8 billion in Nigeria through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to ensure that all Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS have comprehensive access to quality HIV prevention, care, and treatment services.  This investment translates into over 1.9 million Nigerians accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART).  Today, Nigeria is on the cusp of HIV epidemic control and is approaching the global 95-95-95 goals, which means that 95 percent of people with HIV know their HIV status, 95 percent of those with diagnosed HIV infection are accessing ART, and 95 percent of those receiving ART have achieved an undetectable viral load.

The U.S. government’s theme for World AIDS Day this year is, “Putting Ourselves to the Test:  Achieving Equity to End HIV.”  When I reflect upon how this theme applies to Nigeria, I believe the over 1.9 million lives saved today is a tangible reminder of our enduring commitment to reach disproportionately affected, and often marginalized, communities.

While the intent of today’s reception is to celebrate all of you, I also want to challenge us to think about what it will take to achieve full equity in access to HIV services in Nigeria.  In June, I held a reception to honor the work of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission in protecting LGBTQI+ rights.  I will never forget the heart wrenching stories from victims, who because of their sexual orientation or engagement in sex work experienced gender-based violence, or the unlawful incarceration of 57 men gathered for a party in August 2018, who were denied legal services and access to healthcare including ART.  I am also inspired by the stories shared by adolescents born with HIV who navigate through societal stigma and discrimination.

Nigeria’s ability to reach and sustain HIV epidemic control will be compromised if we remain silent to the real issues faced not only by key populations, but also adolescent girls, young people, and communities that are isolated from quality health care services due to geography or insecurity.

This year PEPFAR identified and initiated 6,309 HIV positive pregnant women on ART.  Unfortunately, we also screened and identified 335 HIV exposed infants who tested positive.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than meeting a child born with HIV.  We have long had the tools to prevent mother to child transmission and we cannot allow ourselves to accept children born today with HIV.

These experiences are not limited to Nigeria but are also occurring in the U.S.  Last year over 34,000 Americans were newly diagnosed with HIV, but disparities persist in identifying new cases among African American and Latino communities.  We also still have a lot of work ahead of us in the United States to ensure that marginalized and disadvantaged individuals have access to HIV testing and diagnosis opportunities.

There are real costs to society when a significant segment is excluded from health care, social benefits, and social protection.  This year’s theme is a call for all of us to be inclusive and to guarantee that no one is denied equal opportunities or access to healthcare.

As I close, I urge you to continue working with communities to identify pregnant women who face barriers in accessing services that would prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  I urge you to partner with traditional birth attendants and integrate treatment literacy messages so that unreached individuals receive accurate knowledge.  Finally, I urge you to stand up for marginalized communities, including key populations, adolescents and young people and help guide all in need of safe spaces, healthcare, and legal services.

We appreciate you – and those of you who are working within the community to improve healthcare for the vulnerable.  PEPFAR represents the best of American values.  I am proud of the successful partnerships we have forged with the Government of Nigeria through the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, the Ministry of Health’s National HIV Program, the Human Rights Commission, the Lagos State government, the Global Fund, and civil society.

Thank you for your resilience and your tireless efforts.  The U.S. government remains committed to working with all our Nigerian partners to achieve equity as we work towards ending HIV as a public health threat.