Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at 2022 Heroes in Health Awards
Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, Uganda | November 25, 2022
(As prepared for delivery)
Good evening to all. I am honored to join you all as we celebrate the 2022 Heroes in Health Award nominees. We are inspired by the winners’ innovative and creative solutions to improve the health sector through efficient, high-quality, and affordable healthcare.
Before I continue with the celebrations, I want to acknowledge the important contributions of the late Mr. Christopher Nsamba, who was awarded the “Health Innovator of the Year” award last year for developing the largest baby incubator in the world. Mr. Christopher passed in July of this year at the very young age of 37, and I send my condolences to his family, friends, and many admirers.
The past two and one-half years since March 2020 have presented many challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, and now the Ebola outbreak, dramatically changed life as we knew it. COVID-19 took too many lives, shuttered the global economy, and disrupted key education and health initiatives. Despite these difficulties, our strong relationships with Uganda’s government, organizations, and most importantly its people ensured effective use of the many investments made by the United States Government. These funds continued to encourage economic growth and employability, improve health and education, promote democratic values, and strengthen security.
As the world’s leading global health development partner and largest contributor of health assistance to Uganda, the U.S. Government remains committed to improving the health and overall well-being of Ugandans. Our focus is on working in respectful partnership, strengthening Uganda’s capacity to address HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria, maternal and child health, reproductive health including family planning, as well as emerging health threats, while also ensuring that these gains are sustainable. U.S. Government initiatives are directed toward helping the people of Uganda in cooperation with numerous local and international partners – including the Government of Uganda, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society. To support these goals, we invest over $500 million in Uganda’s health sector every year —the bulk of which goes to supporting HIV programs through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
For nearly 20 years, Uganda and the United States, through PEPFAR, have collaborated to develop and implement efficient and effective approaches to identify millions of Ugandans living with HIV and link them to effective treatment, prevent infection before it occurs, and mitigate the impact of HIV on the community. Twenty years ago, the situation around HIV infection and illness felt desperate, but today we find that situation radically transformed. As of September 2022, over 1.3 million Ugandans living with HIV were receiving PEPFAR-supported HIV treatment. Only two days ago, I was with some of these people at the UNYPA (Uganda Network of Young People Living With HIV& AIDS) Y+ beauty pageant. They are living positively – pun intended – and educating others while planning for their own long, productive lives. Achieving HIV epidemic control in Uganda is within sight 40 years after the first cases were detected. And despite the emergence of COVID-19, and now the ongoing outbreak of Ebola, we have ensured that HIV care and treatment remains a central priority. We applaud the heroes in the health sector who have helped Uganda to achieve great success in the fight against HIV. We should celebrate the outstanding innovation and creativity that has brought us to this point and acknowledge what will be required to help Uganda to cross that finish line of the 95-95-95 goals and to sustain epidemic control.
Improving healthcare across Uganda requires preventing not only transmission of HIV and other communicable diseases, but also improving social determinants of health. Gender-based violence is a pervasive threat that increases the risk of HIV and many other negative health outcomes, and requires creative and innovative solutions to drastically reduce its occurrence. All forms of gender-based violence and violence against children must be prevented. And today, on the first day of the 16 days against gender-based violence campaign, we call upon our heroes in the health sector to be actively aware of this threat and use their talents to eliminate all forms of violence.
When it comes to scaling up community models of care, PEPFAR is supporting innovative and creative partnerships with the private sector. For example, a convenient community pharmacy distribution model has been introduced. Currently, over thirty thousand (30,000) clients have received their drug refills at 90 pharmacies in 63 districts. Through this collaboration, over 90 percent of the clients enrolled in this model keep their clinic appointments and have achieved HIV viral load suppression.
Additionally, PEPFAR is supporting innovation and creativity at the grassroots level, leveraging the vast network of community health workers to improve patient outcomes. For example, through the caregiver model, children and adolescents – who have the poorest treatment outcomes in Uganda – benefit from the direct support of health care workers, and we see children on second and third-line HIV treatments are achieving viral load suppression.
The U.S. Government has pioneered many innovations and new technologies to strengthen Uganda’s health systems. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we linked regional referral hospitals to lower-level facilities using new teleconferencing systems that facilitated virtual training and supervision of health workers. This innovation allowed millions of Ugandans to continue receiving critical lifesaving health services during the lockdown. Also, using PEPFAR resources, we have introduced the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system at the National Medical Store (NMS). This state-of-the-art system allows end-to-end visibility of health commodity management from procurement through patient distribution.
We continue to support the Ministry of Health with advanced laboratory equipment and information systems that make Uganda one of the leading countries in disease surveillance and response worldwide – and these strong health systems are being ably used for the Ebola response. The United States Government is proud to partner with Uganda as we continue to advance the country’s ability to reach millions of people in need of critical services. Together, our goal is to build a health system that is resilient, flexible, sustainable, and capable of handling emerging health threats.
But all of this investment and innovation is meaningless without the hard work and dedication of the Health Care Workers. They are the ones who make technological advances work and who transform new ideas into life-saving practices. They are the surgical team I met in Soroti who separated cojoined teams; the team in Fort Portal who provided critical care to fellow health care workers suffering from Ebola; the lab techs and motorcycle couriers handling potentially dangerous samples; the epidemiologists tracking disease spread; YAPS – young people and adolescent peer support members educating their peers; village health teams; all of the hygienists I met – predominantly young women – in Mubende and Kassanda; and of course the leadership team at the Ministry and many, many others. This gathering today is about you and all that you do in support of your community and nation. Yesterday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a day when Americans pause to express gratitude for friends, family, and they blessings they have. I would like to appreciate all of you – the heroes in health.
As we recognize the 60 years of partnership between the American and Ugandan people, the United States looks forward to deepening its commitment to empowering the Ugandan people to build a healthy, prosperous, and democratic nation they richly deserve.