Remarks by Charge d’Affaires, a.i. Maria Brewer – World AIDS Day 2014 Commemoration Event (November 26, 2014)

(as prepared)

Good morning!  I am delighted to be a part of today’s event commemorating the 34th World AIDS Day.  This year’s theme, “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-Free Generation,” captures the essence of our mission to rid the world of this devastating disease.

First, we are committed to focusing the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (known as PEPFAR) resources programmatically and geographically to reach the people and communities most in need.  Second, our partnership with the government of Nigeria is critical to controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria and to achieving an AIDS-free generation.  Third, World AIDS Day is an important time to reflect on PEPFAR’s achievements through our collaboration with the Nigerian government, Global Fund, UN family, private sector, faith-based community, and civil society.

The lives we have touched and the people we have saved offer a resounding testimony to PEPFAR’s success in Nigeria.

Some measures of progress include over 600,000 individuals currently on HIV treatment and the 480,000 people we have reached with HIV prevention messages and activities.  In 2014 alone, nearly 8.7 million people have received HIV counseling and testing services.  More than 55,000 pregnant women have been provided anti-retroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  Approximately 750,000 adults and children living with HIV/AIDS have also received care to enhance quality of life.  Nearly 700,000 children orphaned by AIDS and other vulnerable children have received care and support.  Equally important, PEPFAR supports Nigeria in the critical areas of human capacity, policy development, and strengthening health systems.

On World AIDS Day 2014, nearly 35 years into the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is important to reflect on how far we have come together.  Not so long ago, hospital beds were filled with dying patients.  Thankfully, due to our strong partnerships and collective efforts, new HIV infections have dropped by half worldwide since the peak of the epidemic, and life expectancy has rebounded dramatically.  Despite tremendous progress made, the HIV epidemic is not yet controlled.  An AIDS-free generation is within our reach, but to get there we must deliver the right thing in theright place at the right time.

The right thing means focusing on the highest impact interventions.  When we focus on these interventions and bring them to scale, we see tremendous results.  When we fail to focus or to reach enough people, progress is slow or stalls.  The right place means focusing our resources in key geographic areas, including at state and local government authority levels, and reaching the most vulnerable populations.  The right time suggests getting ahead of and ultimately controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Continually fighting an expanding epidemic is not logistically or financially sustainable.

Success for the PEPFAR Nigeria program will be determined by how effectively we focus and tailor our efforts, together with our partners, to control the epidemic.  With the generous support of the American people, the U.S. government has committed more than $3.5 billion (about 580 billion Naira) to the Nigeria HIV/AIDS response since the inception of the PEPFAR Nigeria Program in 2004.

The United States is not withdrawing funding from its AIDS-related programs.  The U.S. contribution to Nigeria’s National HIV Response has maintained a level of close to half a billion U.S. dollars a year from 2012 to 2015, with an expectation to continue at the same level through 2016.

From time to time, we review our strategy in Nigeria to focus on the highest impact interventions in key geographic areas, but we have not reduced funding for HIV/AIDS activities in Nigeria.

World AIDS Day is a day to commemorate the millions of lives lost and families affected by HIV/AIDS.  It also allows us to recognize the courageous individuals living with HIV who bear the burden of this disease every day.

At this time, I would like us to reflect on the meaning of an AIDS-free generation to our young people.  Young people represent 40 percent of all new HIV infections, meaning 890,000 young people are infected every year, or nearly 2,500 every day, according to the latest data from UNAIDS.  The family, social, cultural, and institutional settings in which youth live profoundly influence their behaviors.  Close interactions with parents and other adult role models, regular school attendance, and supportive societal norms are factors that are associated with positive youth behaviors.  The importance of such family-level interactions is the thrust of the U.S. Mission Nigeria World AIDS Day 2014 Observance.

As a critical step towards an AIDS-free generation, PEPFAR supports programs that focus on youth before they establish patterns of behavior that increase risk of infection.  Since 2008, knowledge about HIV among young women and men has slightly improved worldwide.  Only 34 percent of youth have complete and accurate HIV knowledge, and less than half of young people living in Nigeria can correctly answer five basic questions about HIV and how it is contracted.

Efforts that continue to expand knowledge about HIV are crucial to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Without these, the goal of an AIDS-free generation will remain out of reach for years.  We have come a long way over the past 34 years.  We have reached a critical moment in time where we are close to controlling the HIV epidemic.  We are closer than ever before.  If we work together, an AIDS-free generation is within our reach.

Throughout the ages, young people have been a powerful force for societal change.  With energy and creativity, they can achieve any goal they can conceive, including the goal of an AIDS-free generation.  I would like to encourage young people everywhere to help us reach this goal.  I would like to remind all of us that ensuring an AIDS-free generation truly begins with the individual.  As the slogan says, “It begins with you.”  Thank you.