Remarks by Ambassador Natalie E. Brown At the Ambassador’s farewell meeting with Uganda Aids Commission
(as prepared for delivery) | Wednesday, August 16, 2023, from 17:00-19:00
Good evening, everyone. I am grateful to have the opportunity to join you this evening and recognize the partnership between the Uganda AIDS Commission, civil society colleagues, and the U.S. Embassy throughout my time here. Three years ago, one of my first visits just out of quarantine was to UAC, so it’s very fitting to be here tonight as I prepare to depart Uganda.
We recently marked 60 years of enduring partnership between Uganda and the United States and our joint efforts to increase economic growth, improve health and education, promote democratic values, and strengthen regional security. We also celebrated the incredible impact made over the last 20 years in implementing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment programs through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It was an incredible privilege for me to meet right here in Kampala Mr. John Robert Engole, the very first person in the world to receive PEPFAR-supported HIV treatment. His life was once in peril and now he is thriving as a parent, as a teacher, as a preacher because he adheres to treatment regimens. His successes demonstrate what can be achieved when we work together with a common purpose.
Traveling across the country and visiting projects has reinforced for me the critical connection between good governance and successful health outcomes. Sustaining the HIV/AIDS response therefore requires strong governance, leadership, accountability, and policies that support a healthy legal environment.
I applaud UAC’s leadership on the HIV Legal Environment Assessment and strongly encourage follow through to implement the recommendations highlighted in that report. Equitable health services are essential to reaching HIV epidemic control. The discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) threatens to derail our shared goals and reverse the hard-won gains in the fight against HIV.
I further urge Uganda to continue to ensure good stewardship of HIV/AIDS resources and create space for and promote participation of all communities including key populations, youth especially adolescent girls and young women, who continue to remain vulnerable, and the private sector in the response.
If we are to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, steady political and technical leadership will forge the path. But we can’t ignore the ongoing work required to address stigma. Many of you know that for the past three years, I have had the pleasure to attend the YPlus beauty pageants and see all that young people are doing in their communities. Each year, the contestants become more and more impressive. But it has been disappointing to see that each year, the recurring theme is related somehow to stigma. This was further reinforced when I visited Gulu. There, health workers told me of their efforts to convince a pregnant, HIV-positive, 18-year-old young woman to go on treatment which would decrease mother-to-child transmission of HIV and increase her chances for delivering a healthy baby. She resisted out of fear of the possible reactions from her fiancé, his family, and her own.
These experiences have influenced and guided my work as the U.S Ambassador to Uganda for the last three years, resulting in four philosophies:
- First, set priorities and stay focused.
- Second, keep the focus on people.
- Third, persevere, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable.
- And fourth, stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
But I think all of you know this, because I’ve seen you live and work by the same principles.
So the most important thing I can say to you tonight can be summed up in just two words: “Thank you”.
Thank you for your hard work, commitment, humanity, and your leadership while serving those affected by HIV/AIDS. I witnessed your compassion and leadership during the COVID-19 lockdown, when people living with HIV needed access to HIV treatment and prevention services, and the medical community in Uganda was encouraged by UAC leadership to ensure continuous services. And thank you for the warm welcome and friendship.
Today may be my last official meeting with UAC in my current capacity, but I know that the U.S. Mission will continue to be a proven partner the Ugandan people can depend on.
The story of America’s partnership with the Ugandan people is not one of dollars spent, but of lives impacted and people empowered to create a brighter future for their families, communities, and country. Today, millions of ordinary Ugandans have access to better education, are living healthier, earning more, and participating more fully in their communities because of this partnership. Knowing the impact our partnership over the years helps me to depart Uganda with confidence that this work will continue.
I look forward to hearing about Uganda’s continued successes and meeting some of you again, wherever our paths may cross.
Thank you all very much.