Botswana HIV Clinicians Society Conference

Now, the government’s prompt action in adopting the “Treat All” policy shows admirable commitment to remain at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Congratulations to the Botswana HIV Clinicians Society on hosting the 6th Botswana International HIV Conference. The U.S. government is proud to support this effort and I wish you the best of luck in your deliberations over the next few days.

The theme of your conference – “Total Inclusion for Greater Impact” – is an important one as Botswana enters into a new phase in the response to HIV on the road to epidemic control. It reminds us in order to win the race – and this is no sprint, but really a marathon – we have to give everyone a fair shot, and ensure equal access to prevention and treatment for all.

How apt Botswana, as it prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence, is making history with the bold move called “Treat All” and reclaiming its place as a leader in the response to HIV/AIDS. As the world has long known, Botswana was one of the first countries to provide free A-R-T to its citizens during the peak of the epidemic at the turn of the century, and has also been successfully preventing maternal-to-child transmission of HIV. Now, the government’s prompt action in adopting the “Treat All” policy shows admirable commitment to remain at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

These actions will ensure Batswana live longer, healthier lives and increase the prospect of achieving an AIDS-free generation. This new policy will help avert more than 120,000 new HIV infections and 55,400 deaths over the next 15 years, significantly decrease new TB cases, and usher Botswana into a more sustainable era in the response to HIV/AIDS.

The United States government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) partnership is supporting Botswana’s move to Treat All with more than $20 million in plus-up funds to help Botswana purchase drugs over the next two years. This funding is in addition to the $48 million PEPFAR will use to implement HIV programs next year here in Botswana. PEPFAR Botswana has also shifted its program strategy and geographic focus to support the roll-out of this new treatment policy by prioritizing HIV care and treatment activities and scaling-up assistance geared towards meeting the United Nation’s 90-90-90 global targets.

Reaching more people with HIV prevention, care and treatment services requires strengthened linkages between health facilities and community service providers. Communities play an important role in the response to HIV, helping to reduce stigma and encouraging community members to get tested and adhere to treatment. We encourage focus on strengthening this community-to-facility model by ensuring that ALL people living with HIV are linked to treatment programs and other services, such as gender-based violence (GBV) support and social services.

The very name of the new policy “Treat All” implies anyone who needs treatment, regardless of where they originated, should be eligible. I would encourage participants of this conference to debate the merits of providing treatment for non-citizens also vulnerable to the effects of this disease. HIV doesn’t ask for a passport or OMANG.  Treating HIV positive non-citizens could be a prevention strategy that benefits all Botswana citizens.

Many challenges lie ahead of us as we work together to achieve epidemic control. But I promise you this: PEPFAR and the United States, in partnership with the government and people of Botswana, are committed to the goal of an AIDS-free generation. We are closer than ever and we can’t stop now.

I was asked here tonight not as the keynote speaker, but to introduce a very important leader in the response to HIV … the Honorable Assistant Minister of Health, Dr. Alfred Madigele.

We are lucky to have leaders like Assistant Minister Madigele at the Ministry of Health. The Ministry is one of this nation’s most progressive, continually bringing new innovations to the response to health concerns. The bulk of funding for Botswana’s HIV response – more than 60% – comes from the Ministry, making Botswana one of only three African countries whose domestic spending on HIV exceeds outside sources. Botswana’s Ministry of Health is also a model of best practice when it comes to partnerships. My Embassy in Gaborone considers the partnership with MOH one of our most important, one we flaunt when visitors from Washington come calling.

Ms. Makgato’s commitment and dedication is leading Botswana into the bright future and promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Would you please join me in welcoming Assistant Minister Dr. Madigele.