Remarks by Ambassador James F. Entwistle – Flag-Off Activities and Commissioning of Clinical Research Center Ministry of Defense Ship House, Abu

Abuja | April 30, 2015

(as prepared for delivery)

All protocols observed. Ladies and Gentlemen, honored guests: good morning.  Thank you for including me in this important event.

This is an exciting time in Abuja as Nigerian democracy shines like a beacon across the continent.  We remain deeply committed to working with you, the Nigerian people, and with your government for many years to come.

One of the areas in which we continue to work very closely together is improving the health of the Nigerian people.  The United States and Nigeria are working together to increase access to HIV/AIDS and malaria testing and treatment, improve the quality of family planning and reproductive health services, and expand access to immunization for children and women.  Nigeria also has one of the largest tuberculosis burdens in Africa, and we are working closely with our Nigerian partners to address that worsening problem.  All combined, the U.S. government’s investment in health in Nigeria is our largest globally.

The U.S. Embassy’s Walter Reed Program, supported through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is one of our initiatives to help save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world.  PEPFAR is a historic commitment—the largest by any nation to combat a single disease internationally—and PEPFAR investments also help alleviate suffering from other diseases across the global health spectrum.

In order to make the best possible use of available PEPFAR resources, we will continue to focus our efforts on the local government areas of the country with the highest burden of HIV.  In this way, we can provide HIV care and treatment for the largest number of people and have the greatest impact on the epidemic.  We will continue to work with the Government of Nigeria to find ways to increase its commitment to and resourcing of the national response.

For 10 years, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Nigerian Ministry of Defense have worked together to enhance HIV prevention, care, and treatment.  This partnership has not only endured, it has grown into a model for the way our militaries can work together effectively.  The work that this partnership undertakes—fighting the spread of infectious diseases within the military forces and throughout Nigerian communities—is as important today as it was 10 years ago.  It is my honor to be here today to congratulate you on your many accomplishments and wish you well as you begin another 10 years of work.

The clinical and scientific activities undertaken by this partnership have yielded many notable achievements.  Based at three sites in 2005, today, work is underway at more than 46 locations across Nigeria.  Thanks to all of you and your network of well-trained health care professionals, the Nigerian military is healthier, stronger, and better prepared to serve this great country, but your work goes well beyond that.  More than a half a million people have received counseling and testing through this program, and 80 percent of them are civilians who live in communities surrounding the 46 program facilities.

Just as the program is not only about medical care for soldiers, the program is not only about HIV/AIDS.  All of these sites jointly carry out projects supported by PEPFAR, the Presidential Malaria Initiative, and ongoing medical research studies that help build the military’s capacity to conduct scientific investigations.  Thanks in part to this program, Nigeria is better prepared than ever before to mount an effective response to new outbreaks of a wide variety of diseases.

This partnership has grown and matured under strong leadership, making good use of available resources.  Health programs are not simply about doctors, nurses, and medications.  They are also about complex logistics and reams of data that allow us to analyze the impact of interventions and plot a better course for the future.  Perhaps even more important, they are about connecting people in different agencies and ministries.  This partnership has shown how well the military can engage with civil society, highlighting how military-civilian relationships can help combat and eventually eliminate diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria.

We are proud that the PEPFAR program, through interagency and inter-ministerial partnerships, continues to play a critical role in helping Nigeria achieve the objectives of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS in Nigeria.  Moreover, we are pleased that the Presidential Malaria Initiative is allowing us to similarly assist the National Malaria Elimination Program.  This program is model of one of the most effective ways our governments can work together.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the partnership’s achievements, although 10 years of work cannot really be summarized in one short speech.

In 2009, the partnership initiated a study to determine the prevalence and potential risk factors associated with HIV.  Data from this study have helped influenced policy decisions on testing for HIV.  Through review at high-level conferences, this set of data has influenced the world’s understanding of this disease.

In 2012, the partnership worked with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) on a collaborative multi-step approach to direct clinical trials in Nigeria.  The effort enhanced the resources, skills, and leadership of other disease investigations.

In 2013, the partnership became part of a multi-site, 15-year study called “AFRICOS,” which is evaluating HIV prevention, care, and treatment services across several military treatment facilities in Nigeria.

Later in 2013, the partnership began participating in a collaborative cohort study called RV368/TRUST.  This study will evaluate the impact of providing HIV medical services to a high-risk population.

As a backbone for effective research, the partnership has developed a state-of-the-art Defense Reference Laboratory, which is critical to providing valid test results for these and future studies.   The laboratory also houses Nigeria’s first quality assurance and quality control center, and will provide support to national efforts to improve Nigeria’s laboratory capacity.  Over the past three years, the facility has worked toward becoming the first laboratory to receive international accreditation through the College of American Pathologists in Nigeria.

From the initial proposal in 2004, the partnership has established centers of excellence for laboratory services, and today has the only five-star rated laboratory in Nigeria.  It stands at the forefront of the effort to build Nigeria’s capacity to care and treat patients on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.  The latest infectious disease challenge Nigeria has faced is hemorrhagic fever.  Through interagency partnerships and bi-lateral arrangements, the partnership is contributing to current and future international studies of this disease.  As a military-to-military partnership, it is preparing a rapid response to the global threats we continue to face together in West Africa and around the world.

We are gathered here to today to flag-off.  We are celebrating the partnership’s efforts in combating HIV/AIDS and preparing for future research efforts.

In August 2014, under the direction of the World Health Organization, pharmaceutical companies were asked to test, license, and make available safe and effective interventions for the Ebola and HIV epidemics.  As part of an international network through the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Military HIV Research Program, the U.S.-Nigeria partnership is working with pharmaceutical companies to prepare to test vaccine candidates in Abuja at a new Nigerian research center.  The partnership is working closely with many regulatory bodies, ethics groups, federal entities, and community boards in Nigeria to ensure that any such studies will be safe and contribute to the international effort to combat this health threat.

While much work remains in the future, the joint efforts of the American and Nigerian governments will no doubt lead to great success towards fighting the global epidemics that have affected Nigeria, West Africa, and other parts of the world.

Thank you for your leadership, commitment, and hard work over the past decade.  Congratulations to all those who made this day possible.  And good luck with all that I know you will strive to do over the next 10 years and beyond.