Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation National Dialogue and Dinner

Good evening everyone.

I stand before you on this august occasion with the deepest humility and respect for the Champions, leaders, activists, and other frontline soldiers gathered here tonight.

Together, their decades of commitment and hard-won accomplishments have saved millions of lives and altered the course of the HIV epidemic around the world.  To each of them I can attest that we stand in your shadow and thank you for being a light in the darkest of times.

Nearly two decades ago while I was working for the U.S. Mission in Zimbabwe, I can distinctly recall then-President Rre Mogae taking center-stage at the United Nations General Assembly to warn the world that an entire generation of young Batswana were on the brink of extinction. The American government took notice and began working with President Mogae and other African nations, together with UNAIDS, WHO, and other development partners, to save lives and rapidly expand treatment programs.

America’s flagship program for the global HIV response, called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has grown over the last 16 years to become the largest commitment by any nation in history to address a single disease.

Today, Botswana is among several nations within sight of the goal of an AIDS-free generation.  However, there are a few urgent issues that must be resolved before it can achieve and sustain epidemic control.  These issues need a Champion to ensure that the decades of work done by leaders, activists, and other frontline health workers has not been done in vain.

First, we need to address a critical gap in our data to determine if our current efforts are succeeding or failing.  Botswana’s 5th BAIS survey needs special attention to deliver this critical data and the U.S.  government has stepped up to provide over $1 million dollars and technical expertise to get this done over the next few months.

Second, Botswana’s treatment program is missing a critical component of the epidemic.  There are approximately 23,000 non-citizens who live, work, and raise families here, without access to free treatment.

One clear example of how this gap directly impacts Botswana is the unfortunate reality that we continue to see new cases of HIV in infants.  They have Batswana fathers and non-citizen mothers who are ineligible for treatment.  So, mother-to-child transmission continues.

The fact is that HIV does not care what nationality you are; it doesn’t ask for your passport.  Botswana will never extinguish the epidemic without a universal treatment program. We commend Botswana for continuing to fund a majority of its HIV response and we share the understanding that healthy people make healthy nations. Addressing these gaps in short order, we can approach the last mile of the HIV response in 2020 with conviction that we will get the job done.

To the Champions and our fellow foot soldiers present here, we are ready to fight with you to see this chapter of history closed.

Ke a leboga.