Remarks by U.S. Ambassador William W. Popp At the 6th Annual PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit | Monday, January 22, 2024

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador William W. Popp At the 6th Annual PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit

  • Director of Public Health, Dr. Daniel Kyabayinze
  • Director General of Uganda AIDS Commission, Dr. Nelson Musoba
  • Director of Uganda Virus Research Institute, Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu
  • UNAIDS Uganda Coordinator
  • Global Fund Representatives
  • PEPFAR implementing partners and civil society representatives
  • U.S. Government colleagues
  • All protocol observed.

Good morning.I am delighted to join you today to start the 6th annual PEPFAR Uganda Science Summit.The theme, “Follow the Science to Epidemic Control,” could not be timelier as we close in on 21 years of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It has been an honor, under the leadership of the PEPFAR Coordination Office, for the United States to host this Science Summit over the last six years to share best practices and emerging science to achieve an AIDS-free generation!

The United States, through PEPFAR, continues as the largest donor and partner in the world working to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.  In Uganda, the single largest portion of U.S. government assistance—over $500 million annually—goes to supporting health programs, helping millions of Ugandans.  With PEPFAR funding, the United States implements both HIV and TB programs through several U.S. government agencies: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Peace Corps.  Thanks to the work of these U.S. government agencies and the collective efforts of our implementing partners, Uganda is now on the cusp of ending HIV as a public health threat.

National data indicate at the end of September 2023, about 1.4 million people living with HIV were on PEPFAR-supported treatment and 1.2 million people had a suppressed viral load, enabling Ugandans with HIV to live longer, productive lives.This is all thanks to the dedicated health care community and evolving research and innovation that will be showcased over the next two days.

PEPFAR has improved HIV prevention and treatment services through knowledge-sharing platforms such as this Summit. For example, high-impact Ugandan studies presented at previous summits demonstrated the effectiveness of giving new, shorter medication regimens for TB in people living with HIV. Another study modeled the incredible impact of scaling up PEPFAR-supported HIV treatment over the previous 20 years, which prevented nearly 500,000 HIV infections — including more than 230,000 infections among HIV-exposed infants — and averted approximately 600,000 HIV-related deaths.Innovations such as increased community access to HIV treatment and other drugs through six-month prescriptions emerged from this very forum.As a result, over a million people living with HIV were able to stay healthy and on treatment despite COVID-19-related lockdowns and restrictions.

Of course, it’s not only what we have done over the years, but the impact of what we continue to do, that we can be proud of.For example, just ten days ago, I attended the graduation of the eighth cohort of the U.S.-supported Field Epidemiology Training Program.Not only has this program now produced more than 90 world-class Ugandan field epidemiologists, but also a vast amount of vital research. Their work has immediate real-world impact, from engaging communities to averting disease spread to making recommendations that influence national and global policies.Some of the graduated fellows will in enrich this very Summit by presenting their studies here over the next two days.

Now, in addition to celebrating our achievements, we must also recognize that many challenges remain.The resource landscape is changing, and we must increase sustainability and country ownership of HIV programs.Increased domestic financing and sustained political engagement by host countries will be critical to ending the HIV epidemic.Equally important is exploring new local funding opportunities, including the private health and financial sectors. We will be successful in tackling the HIV epidemic, even in a challenging resource environment, if we follow the science towards more impactful and more efficient interventions to defeat HIV and TB.

Furthermore, we must pay attention to data that show the harmful impact that policies have on HIV epidemic control. As PEPFAR Ambassador Nkengasong has presented on multiple occasions, robust scientific analyses have revealed that countries that criminalize and marginalize people have worse public health outcomes. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a significant impediment to equitable access to HIV services and threatens our collective efforts to end the HIV epidemic. I am pleased to see that this PEPFAR Science Summit will feature data from a recent legal environment assessment, as well as population-specific studies including topics on marginalized and vulnerable groups such as key populations. At this Summit, Uganda’s leading researchers will share gaps to focus our resources where services are needed most.

In December 2023, we commemorated World AIDS Day, and I was fortunate to attend multiple community events organized by U.S. government partners over the month. For example, I travelled to Northern Uganda where I was proud to join health workers as they discharged five mothers living with HIV from the PEPFAR Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission of HIV program at Awach Health Centre in Gulu District. Their healthy, HIV-negative babies’ bright future is clear evidence of the impact we are having an individual level. Back in Kampala, at Reach Out Mbuya, I interacted with a grandmother who has raised many orphans whose parents who passed away from HIV, but who are now thriving adults raising their own families and contributing to the development of Uganda. She told me that , “AIDS was a death sentence, but when PEPFAR came, that changed.” These kinds of testimonials should make us all proud of what our work together has achieved and inspire us to re-commit ourselves to reach the 2030 goals.

In the word’s of President Biden on last year’s World AIDS Day: “Let us finish the fight.” I wish you fruitful deliberations as you continue this fight. Thank you.