As Prepared For Delivery | February 5, 2015 | Gaborone
Good morning. Now that I have officially presented my credentials as the Ambassador of the United States to Botswana, I decided my first public visit outside of the Embassy walls should be to somewhere close to my heart. I would like to thank our longstanding partner, Tebelopele Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, for hosting me this morning as I toured the center and received my first HIV test as an official Ambassador.
Fifteen years ago in collaboration with the Government of Botswana, the U.S. Government established Tebelopele VCT in response to the need for Batswana to know their HIV status. We built more than a dozen freestanding centers across Botswana with support from the Department of Defense, and helped transition Tebelopele into a local non-government organization run by Batswana. We continue to support Tebelopele through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, and believe in its mission of empowering individuals and couples to make positive decisions about their future.
If you are asking yourselves why I would choose to do an HIV test as one of my first public activities, it’s simple: I want to convince others to get tested, too. I am here to show the people of Botswana and of the United States that one of my top priorities in my new role is health, and specifically in helping Botswana to change the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This takes more than financial and technical support – it takes leadership. That is why I am out here this morning, doing what I believe is right and leading by example. The only way to know your HIV status is by testing first. I ask that everyone take the time to go to a Tebelopele center or to a local clinic to be tested.
Talking about health and the path to an HIV-free generation may be one of the most important things I do in my role as new Ambassador. Through PEPFAR, my government has provided nearly $700 million dollars – or nearly P6 billion pula – to support Botswana’s HIV/AIDS response. We know that despite the tremendous progress that has been made, the epidemic is not yet controlled. To get there, we are re-focusing our efforts on a data-driven approach that strategically targets geographic areas and populations where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent. We will continue to invest in evidence-based, high-impact interventions such as Option B+ in order to get there. My government has pledged $7.5 million in funding to support the Government of Botswana’s decision to adopt and implement Option B+, which is a program that provides lifelong treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women regardless of their CD4 count. Why is this important? Lifelong treatment helps prevent infant infections, it saves mothers’ lives, reduces the numbers of orphans, and is cost-effective.
We will also continue to advocate for effective health policies, including breastfeeding and changes to the national treatment guidelines so more people living with HIV can access anti-retroviral treatment sooner. We are certain that these shifts will not only help people live longer, but will also place Botswana at the forefront as a global leader in HIV prevention and control.
I am excited to be here this morning. I had a great experience thanks to my very kind and professional VCT counselor, who did an outstanding job educating me about the process and what to expect. Today is a new day for me, and I am ready to take on my new assignment. Let’s encourage each other to keep testing for HIV, to keep talking about HIV, and how, together, we can reach an HIV-free generation.
Kea leboga. Thank you.