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Op-Ed on World AIDS Day: Leadership, Commitment, Impact
Published on 1-12-2016 - at 05:03' by By Matthew Roth, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy Rwanda

Today, December 1, in celebration of World AIDS Day, I can say with confidence and pride that by working together we have the ability to end AIDS in Rwanda. This last mile, however, is going to take even greater leadership, unwavering commitment, and our collective focus to ensure every dollar invested in the fight against HIV/AIDS has the greatest impact for the benefit of those in need.

The United States Government’s commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic cannot be overstated. We invest with our voices, our capacity, and our dollars. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has invested more than $70 billion to support the HIV/AIDS response globally, including $55 billion since the start of the Obama Administration. In Rwanda, PEPFAR has invested more than $1 billion since 2004.

In partnership with the Government of Rwanda and UNAIDS, PEPFAR currently supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for 98,001 people, including 5,040 children. This past year, PEPFAR has provided voluntary medical male circumcision for 50,204 men, enabled 146,315 pregnant women to receive HIV testing and counseling, and helped 72,448 orphans and vulnerable children to receive care and support.

We have a narrow window to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by reaching the UNAIDS ’90-90-90’ targets (90% of people with HIV diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed on ART, and 90% of those on ART virally suppressed) by 2020. We must seize this opportunity to put Rwanda on the path toward ending the AIDS epidemic.

Following the July 2016 roll-out of ‘Treat All’ – a policy that allows all people living with HIV to access ART regardless of infection stage - 84% of people living with HIV in Rwanda were receiving ART. One of the core strategies of the U.S. Government is working with the Government of Rwanda and our partners to ensure that together we target testing to find people living with HIV who do not yet know their status. The U.S. Government is proud to be a strong supporter of and partner with the Government of Rwanda, civil society, and the people of Rwanda to work toward epidemic control.

In the United States and around the globe, we made great gains for some, but not all. We have not made nearly as much progress in ensuring respect for all persons, protection of human rights, zero discrimination, and enabling legal and policy environments to deliver quality HIV treatment
and prevention services for all. Populations at the greatest risk of HIV infection are being further left behind and pushed into the shadows.

PEPFAR stands firmly and unequivocally with and for key and priority populations. When one community member is stigmatized, or unable to access services due to discrimination, the health and human dignity of everyone in that community are threatened, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic will not be controlled.

The greatest action we need right now is to empower adolescent girls and young women to protect their health, well-being, and pursue their dreams. Last year, 390,000 adolescent girls and young women were infected with HIV — more than 1,000 every day. Adolescent girls and young women account for 75% of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.

Achieving an AIDS-free generation in Rwanda – one in which no one is left behind – is possible, but it will not happen automatically or easily. We must come together to make it a reality. This week, around the world, more than 20,000 adults and 2,100 children died from AIDS-related causes. More than 37,000 adults were infected with HIV, including 7,500 young women. This must motivate us all to keep pushing.

Now is the time for leadership, commitment, and impact.

Matthew Roth

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i.
U.S. Embassy Rwanda

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Matthew Roth

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