Investing millions in winning the shared dream of defeating Aids

By U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard | Sunday Independent | December 1 2013

As South Africa’s battle against Aids has evolved, so has PEPFAR’s support, says Patrick H Gaspard the US Ambassador to SA.

Johannesburg – What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, Aids was a death sentence. It cut down young adults in their prime, created millions of orphans, stalled economic development and left countries stuck in poverty. Aids was threatening the security of people everywhere in the world, and particularly here in South Africa. Stopping its deadly tide called for extraordinary measures.

That was why the US launched the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, (PEPFAR), in 2003. Ambitious in scope and commitment, in the ten years since PEPFAR was announced, the numbers of those infected by HIV is down 33 percent, with Aids deaths declining 32 percent since the peak in 2005.

Thanks to programmes like PEPFAR, combined with landmark scientific advances, the world is at the point where an Aids-free generation is in sight and attainable.

In South Africa, the US government, through PEPFAR, has already invested R42 billion over the past decade in prevention, treatment, and care for those with HIV and Aids and to help strengthen the health system.

When I met with Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi this week, I told him how proud we were that PEPFAR funding to the South African government and non-government partners has helped save hundreds of thousands of South African lives. And I applauded the leadership in the commitment to prevent HIV, provide treatment, and strengthen the public health system.

This year alone, our co-investment and partnership has led to 2.4 million individuals receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment, a reduction in mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV to less than 3 percent, and nearly 295 000 men medically circumcised as part of a package of prevention services.

But numbers alone don’t tell the real success story. The impact of our commitment is told through the millions of lives touched by the enormous effort that has been made over the past decade. People like Lizzy Chibangu, who tested positive for HIV and was put on ARVs through PEPFAR’s support to the Nazareth House in Johannesburg in 2005. She has remained healthy ever since and become an advocate for fighting against the stigma of HIV and knows that speaking out is an important part of fighting the disease.

She is also looking forward to seeing her youngest daughter complete university next year.

Tsepang Mhlakoana, Bongane Mhlakoana, and Terence Ngitsitieseng Jama are more examples of South African lives touched by PEPFAR. These teenagers who live in a farming community in KwaZulu-Natal are just three of the 170 000 orphans and vulnerable children across South Africa who were assisted by PEPFAR grants last year. They were nurtured from a young age by caregivers from Clouds of Hope, a community-based organisation funded by PEPFAR.

Cloud caregivers provide a home to 62 orphaned children. They helped these three young women obtain a Transnet-sponsored bursary that will allow them to complete grades 10 through 12 in a specialist maritime academy. Instead of their lives being cut short because of HIV – the grim reality a decade ago, they all now have a bright and promising future.

We take hope from the thousands of positive stories like these, but we also know that there is still so much more that needs to be done. An estimated 1.6 million people worldwide died in last year from Aids-related causes.

Global health and development resources are being squeezed due to difficult economic times. And the stigma of HIV and Aids, with its subsequent discrimination against those infected, continues to limit access to treatment and care for those in need.

What the US has learned in the last 10 years is that creating an Aids-free generation is an endeavour that must be shared among all the world’s citizens. Governments, civil society, the private sector, foundations and multilateral institutions must be ready to work together. That is why this week Minister Motsoaledi and I pledged our continuing support and funding to make sure that future generations of South Africans live in a world where Aids is no more.

Despite what some people have been saying, PEPFAR funding is not coming to an end in South Africa. As South Africa’s battle against Aids has evolved, so has PEPFAR’s support. Through a jointly planned process, last year our two governments signed an agreement that outlines investments through 2017 to further reduce HIV infections and strengthen health systems. The South African government is committed to finance and manage the provision of HIV/Aids care and treatment services nationwide, and the US government will continue to invest in building the capacity of the thousands of health and community workers who form the backbone of service delivery and management of the response.

Even after 2017, the US is committed to maintaining its partnership with South Africa to combat HIV/Aids and TB, particularly through technical assistance, prevention efforts, and support for orphans and vulnerable children programmes. The broader bilateral health co-operation on biomedical research, non-communicable diseases, and infectious diseases will also continue to flourish. We are particularly proud of South Africa-US collaborations in HIV research that have enabled the successful South African response we see today and informed HIV programmes worldwide.

As the US Ambassador to South Africa, I salute all those here and in the US who have worked tirelessly for 10 years as part of PEPFAR to help prove to Lizzy, Tsepang, Bongane, Terence and millions like them that Aids need not be a death sentence.

By working together, we have created a better future for millions of South African men, women and children, and going forward we will continue this partnership and together achieve our shared goal of an Aids-free generation.

Originally published in Sunday Independent, December 1, 2013 – World AIDS Day 2013