2023 PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit – Opening Remarks by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission William D. Bent

2023 PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit – Opening Remarks by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission William D. Bent

Hotel Africana, Kampala | January 31, 2023 (as prepared for delivery)

DCM Bent - Pepfar @20yrs Uganda2Good morning. I am honored to open this year’s annual PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit. Now in its 4th year, this year’s Summit theme, “Following the Science and Sustaining the Gains as PEPFAR turns 20,” aligns with the global PEPFAR@20 commemoration theme— “PEPFAR: 20 Years of Impact.”

As most of you here know, on January 28, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the creation of PEPFAR during his State of the Union address. Four months later, the U.S. Congress authorized the first $15 billion—making the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the United States government’s flagship response program to the global HIV epidemic and the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.

Since 2003, PEPFAR has saved more than 25 million lives and dramatically improved health outcomes in more than 55 partner countries. AIDS-related deaths have declined by 68 percent since their peak in 2004, and new HIV infections are down 42 percent. PEPFAR investments have ensured that 5.5 million babies have been born HIV-free. And two decades of investment in partner nations’ health systems played a critical role in countries’ ability to respond to other health crises such as COVID-19, Mpox, and Ebola.    

In Uganda, the U.S. government had been supporting HIV and TB research in Uganda since 1991, long before PEPFAR was launched. In fact, PEPFAR’s architects, including the recently retired Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom many of us recognize as a global leader in the recent COVID response, visited Uganda multiple times and took Ugandan’s scientific contributions into account when designing PEPFAR globally. When PEPFAR was announced, Uganda became a focus country for the global PEPFAR program and, in April 2004, started implementing HIV prevention, care, and treatment services to those affected, but also continued with contributing world-class PEPFAR-supported HIV and TB research. To date, PEPFAR has invested over $4 billion dollars in Uganda’s fight against HIV—bringing us closer to ending AIDS by 2030.

Recent reports (UPHIA) show that 1.4 million Ugandans are estimated to be living with HIV. But a recent study also shows that from September 2004 to September 2022, the number of persons with HIV infection in Uganda receiving PEPFAR-supported ART increased by close to 5,000%. Tomorrow, I know you will have chance to hear about more findings from this study that shows that the tremendous scale up of PEPFAR-supported ART has helped avert almost 500,000 estimated HIV infections, including over 230,000 infections among HIV-exposed infants; and nearly 600,0000 HIV-related deaths.  And it is especially gratifying to note that the first person in the world to received PEPFAR-supported HIV treatment almost 20 years ago is alive and well, further demonstrating the success of this life saving program.

Through the collective work of our U.S. agencies in Uganda—including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of State (DOS) and Department of Defense (DOD), and Peace Corps— PEPFAR has supported and engaged in scientific collaborations with many of you—our valuable scientific and public health partners.

We are pleased that once again, the PEPFAR Science Summit has been planned in partnership between U.S. Government agencies and the Uganda Ministry of Health. Honorable Minister Aceng will join Ambassador Brown in giving closing remarks tomorrow, and Ministry of Health staff have contributed to shaping the agenda, will be giving presentations, and will be serving as session co-chairs. In addition, at this morning’s tea break, we invite you to review poster presentations on HIV and TB topics by fellows from the PEPFAR-supported MOH Public Health Fellowship Program.

Let’s look at some celebrated examples of evidence-based interventions now being implemented worldwide, which were first pioneered and proven here in Uganda. Foundational examples from the early days of PEPFAR include voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention, and the roles of HIV treatment medications and viral load measurement for managing HIV as well as preventing ongoing transmission of HIV infections through mother-to-child and sexual transmission. We also saw the utility of the ‘basic care package’ of safe water, malaria prevention materials, and antibacterial prophylaxis provided through home-based AIDS care to reduce mortality among people living with HIV in Uganda. Many of you in this room were leaders in these game-changing projects.

The 2023 Summit is perfectly timed for two purposes: to highlight the occasion of PEPFAR’s 20th anniversary, and to inform the 2023 PEPFAR Country Operating Planning (COP) process, which launches next week. Past PEPFAR Science Summits successfully ensured that key Uganda scientific and programmatic breakthroughs were shared across communities and incorporated in the detailed annual COP plans. I am confident that this year’s Summit will also drive innovation in alignment with the new PEPFAR strategy launched on World AIDS Day 2022, especially the strategic pillar to Follow the Science. This focus shows that globally, PEPFAR seeks to re-emphasize science and evidence-based interventions, just as those organizing the PEPFAR Uganda Science Summits do. Using the Summit as a springboard, I urge all of us to identify key priorities and strategies for COP 2023 by following the science to sustain HIV epidemic control in Uganda. Looking forward to the future of PEPFAR, we are confident that Uganda will continue to serve as a source of inspiration, success and innovation in HIV and TB.

In closing, I commend the Science Summit’s role in highlighting Uganda’s outstanding HIV and TB science contributions and ensuring that its most recent findings will inform the upcoming PEPFAR Country Operation Plan. In PEPFAR’s 20th anniversary year it is wonderful to recognize Uganda’s central role in HIV and TB science and response – and to recommit ourselves to following the newest science, sustaining the response, and ending the HIV epidemic. I trust that those of you in the audience will encourage colleagues not present today to also access, share, and learn from the Summit materials which will be posted on the Embassy website soon after the Summit ends. And now, I look forward to listening to some of your presentations. Thank you.