Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission William D. Bent at PEPFAR COP23 Strategic Check in Meeting
U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 31, 2023 | (As prepared for delivery at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kampala)
Good morning, everyone. It is wonderful to have “Team Uganda” back together to check-in after the recently concluded Regional COP Co-Planning Meetings. The collaboration among government, multilateral, bilateral, and community partners is the “secret sauce” behind our successful engagement on this critically important issue. It is because each of us is committed to meeting targets, working together, and sustaining the response to this HIV epidemic that we will achieve our goals.
There are many people who have enabled PEPFAR to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic – those on the front lines and behind the scenes, who have gone above and beyond to make this program a success in Uganda, saving lives and securing a future for so many people affected by this disease! People in this room have helped to shape the country’s response to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Thank you for your strategic guidance and diligence in helping the country reach the last mile on the road to ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Under the new PEPFAR strategy, “Fulfilling America’s Promise to Work with Host Governments, End the HIV/ AIDS Pandemic by 2030,” the United States set a bold goal of accelerating the response, while sustainably strengthening public health systems to create a healthier, safer, and more secure world for us all.
Despite the many successes, we still have a way to go. We recognize that we do not always have the answers, and the work of PEPFAR does not happen without collaborative effort. We can only accomplish our goals through equitable partnership. The leadership of the Government of Uganda and partnerships with civil society are essential for PEPFAR’s achievements to truly be sustainable. COP23 was designed to be a different experience than in past years for these very reasons. COP23 is formulated around working more closely together with all of you, and welcoming new partners from sectors where PEPFAR has historically had limited engagement, like the local private sector. I’m excited to see the results of this more robust approach.
I want to stress how crucial it is to ensure equity in HIV and TB service delivery as we plan for COP23 and beyond. The LGBTQI+ community, female sex workers, and people with disabilities are among the populations frequently neglected and stigmatized across all levels of society. If we want to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030, we cannot leave these Ugandans behind. We must include ALL individuals in our response if we hope to achieve our goal, and this can only be done if people are not stigmatized and driven underground. Let’s be clear: this is a public health concern; a stigmatized individual, and certainly one whose actions could lead to severe punishment in the judicial system, will not seek treatment.
For long-term sustainability, we must continue to address the societal and structural drivers of HIV and strengthen the capabilities of the government, civil society and local partners to lead and manage the program. Additionally, in COP23, we are looking to effectively leverage PEPFAR investment to make further measurable and sustainable gains in public health systems and health security. We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Ebola outbreak how much PEPFAR investment in Uganda had prepared the country for a successful response. But, of course, there is much more to be done in this area. The U.S. government is committed to working closely with all of you to implement PEPFAR’s five-year strategy to quickly reach the 95-95-95 treatment goals. This stakeholder meeting is happening at a good time, especially as we solidify the development of the two-year COP23 plan. It is reassuring that we have reached a common understanding of strategy, targets, and activities. Let’s ensure we continue to have collaborative data reviews and share best practices while exercising respect, humility, equity, and transparency in all our interactions.
Finally, in alignment with efforts by the U.S. Government to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, as well as to advance equity for underserved communities, PEPFAR will work to ensure that these principles are upheld, promoted, and advanced in all PEPFAR programs. We will also aim to ensure our work aligns with Uganda’s Vision for 2040.