Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at “CheckNow HIV Self-Testing Services” Launch | March 2, 2023

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at “CheckNow HIV Self-Testing Services” Launch

U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 2, 2023 (as prepared for delivery at Serena Hotel, Kampala)

I am pleased to join you all this morning as the Ministry of Health launches the “CheckNOW HIV Self-Testing Servicesamong Youth in Higher Institutions of Learning.  This campaign is a country-led public-private partnership, demonstrating how together we can foster innovative solutions to society’s most pressing concerns through collaboration with philanthropic organizations and private businesses.  Today’s launch illustrates the important role private sector entities like Abbott Labs can plays alongside the Government of Uganda, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and other partners in the effort to achieve epidemic control of HIV/AIDS.

Innovative solutions, such as HIV self-testing, are essential to reach undiagnosed adolescents and young people – the critical first step to starting HIV treatment, which ultimately supports young people to live full, healthy, and productive lives.  A recurring theme during my time here in Uganda has been stigma.  People – and especially younger Ugandans – are fearful of getting tested, and if they test positive, of being seen receiving life-saving treatment.  I hope the availability of “CheckNOW HIV Self-Testing Services” encourages younger Ugandans to take the initiative to get tested earlier and if necessary, to get on treatment sooner, so that they can live the longer, healthier, more productive lives they so richly deserve.

We are especially thankful that Abbott, an American company, is investing in Uganda and providing key services in the health sector.  For about four years, Abbott has carried out a public-private partnership agreement with the Ministry of Health to provide diagnostic services for HIV, COVID, and malaria.  Abbott’s excellent example is proof that linking American private sector technical expertise with the talented human resources that exist in Uganda can lead to improvements in the health of all citizens.  Abbott’s experience serves as an inspiration to encourage more American companies to invest in Uganda in a way that prioritizes transparency, accountability, and coordination with the abundant talent present across Uganda.

The recent successful effort to combat Ebola in Uganda is a powerful reminder of the importance of providing health care for all.  When the outbreak began last September, time was of the essence and it was imperative that the Ministry and development partners quickly surge resources to provide dignified, quality health care for any individual exposed to the virus.  This not only saved many lives of people who contracted Ebola, but it prevented community transmission which could have turned the outbreak into a catastrophe.  We never asked who was receiving health assistance, but rather focused on the universal need to keep all of us healthy.  This approach should guide all citizen engagement with the health system.  If individuals, especially those from vulnerable or marginalized groups such as fisherfolk; adolescent girls and young women, who unfortunately experienced an increase in HIV/AIDS infection during the COVID-19 pandemic; men who have sex with men; female sex workers; drug users; and the incarcerated do not receive the health care they need, it ultimately costs us all as we are deprived of their contributions to the economy and their communities and end up paying more for care that would have been more economical if addressed earlier.

Next week, experts from the U.S. Mission will gather in South Africa with their counterparts from the government, implementing partners, and civil society to discuss key policy and programmatic updates for the PEPFAR [U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] Country Operational Plan 2023 (COP23) for Uganda.  It’s so relevant that we are here today to launch CheckNOW HIV Self-Testing Services because innovation, and building transformational partnerships with a diverse set of private sector stakeholders, including private for-profit institutions, social enterprises, foundations, and private sector health delivery systems, represent a strategic pillar of PEPFAR’s new 5-year strategy.  Through these partnerships, Uganda and PEPFAR can create connections with complementary programs as well as align strategies, programs, and operations.

Additionally, these partnerships contribute to reducing costs by avoiding duplication of efforts and helping countries shape their markets for more new innovations while improving the coordination of health systems and security investments, promoting regional manufacturing capacity, advancing digital health, and bolstering the health workforce, all of which keep us on the path to ending the HIV pandemic as a public health threat by 2030.

PEPFAR, working in partnership with the Ugandan people and our fellow Americans, will continue to leverage U.S. and local ingenuity and innovation from across sectors to rapidly translate the latest tools, technologies, and scientific breakthroughs into program implementation to better serve the community.  Furthermore, in collaboration with local institutions of higher learning, we can utilize the capabilities of U.S. and local academic institutions to deploy research and scientific expertise in support of local African institutions and on-the-ground programming.

I thank the Ministry of Health for providing space for American companies like Abbott to invest and thrive in Uganda.  As we launch the CheckNow HIV Self-Testing Services, I want to urge that these services be made integral to a “status-neutral” approach to HIV services for young people, ensuring that all people are directly linked to services appropriate to their health needs, whether that is for HIV prevention or treatment, regardless of HIV status.

The progress Uganda has made in the fight against HIV is impressive.  Yet we all know there is far more we can do to reverse rates of new HIV infections.  Equitable services for all people, especially those most marginalized and stigmatized by society, are essential to reaching HIV epidemic control.  This is why PEPFAR, now in its 20th year of partnership with Uganda, and partners like Abbott Labs are so essential: they equip us with the tools necessary to adapt to the current state of the HIV pandemic and prepare us to respond to public health threats yet to come.  Initiatives like CheckNow help provide the tools to fulfill our most basic human commitment: to preserve health and to save lives, which the United States has been doing in partnership with Ugandans for the past 60 years, working towards a brighter future, together.

Thank you all.