U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Briefer: Spokesperson Heather Nauert
3:23 p.m. EST
MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everybody. I brought a guest with me today. Great to see you, by the way. Deborah Birx is here. You all know her, I think, from her interest in her work that she’s done over the years in PEPFAR. So Ambassador Birx, our U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, is here to take a few questions and talk with you a little bit about some of the progress that has been made in PEPFAR over the past year. So I’ll turn it over to Ambassador Birx. She’ll take a couple questions, and then we’ll proceed from there.
Ambassador, go right ahead.
AMBASSADOR BIRX: Great. Good afternoon. Hopefully you realize that this year marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and of course the 15th-year anniversary of PEPFAR. So it’s really a privilege to be here. The Secretary opened an event this morning at the State Department on really engaging faith communities in the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a more and expansive way to really meet the needs of young men and young women who we haven’t been finding, who are well and need to be diagnosed.
But he also announced our results. And every year annually we announce our World AIDS Day results. They’re quite impressive this year, with 14.6 million men, women, and children on treatment in PEPFAR countries. We did almost 6.8 million children, Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Program; 2.4 million babies born HIV-free. So 17 million people are live today because of the generosity of the American people.
We also continue to focus on prevention, both prevention for young boys and prevention for young girls. We have now completed 18.9 million circumcisions. And remember, circumcisions are like a vaccine, except it’s good for life. And so decreases the incidence of HIV by 60 to 70 percent, and we’re now up to 19 million, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But critically, and up on the website today, is our DREAMS results. DREAMS stand for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, and Mentored, and Safe young women. We now can announce that in our 63 DREAMS districts, of those 85 percent still show increasing declines in new infections in young women due to this program. We’re very excited about those results. It’s a comprehensive structural intervention that’s really focusing on the young lives of young girls and ensuring that we’re addressing their needs in their communities. And so we’re very excited about those results.
But I think you’ll also see that we’ve shown that in our studies in Ethiopia, now our studies in Nigeria, we’ve shown that Ethiopia truly is achieving an AIDS control and control of their HIV/AIDS pandemic with significant drops in incidence, and we’re very excited about new data that will come out in the beginning of the year from Nigeria showing their epidemic is not as large as we had once expected, and that people are thriving and staying on their ARVs and are virally suppressed – both thriving for themselves and ensuring that they’re not transmitting the viruses to others.
So I think we’ve really been able to show now that country by country, community by community, county by county, there is ability to control this pandemic when you focus resources in an accountable way and really translate the American taxpayer dollars into an effective program that’s actively monitored in a way so that we both are constantly improving our performance but also monitoring our results for outcomes and impacts. And so we believe we’re really delivering on foreign assistance and for the American people, but also for the continent of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central America, where we work for PEPFAR programming.
PEPFAR was set up as a new way of doing foreign assistance, like MCC. And from the beginning, the FDA worked with pharmaceutical companies to create waivers. And so all of our medicine that we utilize is generic-based. And so we have drugs that for an entire year, to keep people alive, about $75 a year. So from the very beginning, PEPFAR, through the FDA, quality-controlled drugs but delivered in these resource-limited settings at that $75-80 per year.
AMBASSADOR BIRX: Well, as you noticed, we’re still in all of the countries, fully supported by this administration and fully supported by Congress. And I think the results speak for themselves. Now, I’m very cognizant of the fact that PEPFAR was set up as an emergency. It was set up in order to have an impact where we would be successful and therefore funding would be able to be decreased in the out years. Ethiopia alone has gone from $400 million a year to $100 million a year because of the success of that program. And so now it’s us to keep that program sustained at a level that we can maintain our success that we’ve done in partnership with the country and the communities.
So I think it’s a really exciting time for us to be able to show that foreign assistance should have a beginning, middle, and end, and it should have an end because we’ve been successful both in building the capacity in a sustainable way but also because we’ve controlled the pandemic in a way that the financial requirements are less and less each year.
AMBASSADOR BIRX: So you all can be part of that solution for the complacency, because part of that complacency comes from the American people or others around the world who don’t see any reporting on HIV/AIDS. And so if you ask leaderships of country, they’ll say, “Well, that was something in the 1990s. That’s not something that’s a problem today.” So I think highlighting both the epidemic here in the United States and the progress we’ve made, but what is yet to be done, and also being very clear – just because I talk about the countries that – I was clear on about Ethiopia. For every Ethiopia, there’s a Cote d’Ivoire, where we haven’t controlled the pandemic.
And so although we have this roadmap, it really requires political will of each of the countries to take on the policy and the policy changes that ensure that everyone has access to these critical services. So if you are poor and there’s fees to access services, you can’t get into the clinic, no matter how free we make the HIV test. So there is a definite partnership and leadership that’s required in each of these countries. And you’ll see the countries that have been highly successful, they combine political will with policies and community engagement. But we will have complacency if people in the – all around the globe with these very severe pandemics don’t talk about it, like we do in the United States, we don’t talk about it. So young people today don’t even know that there’s an HIV/AIDS risk still in the communities.
So you can help us by talking about World AIDS Day, talking about the progress, but also caution us to ensure that we keep this on the front burner for everybody. And that’s why I’m just so happy Heather let me come over today and talk to you, because I love inserting this good news, but a cautionary note to all of you. And you can really be part of our solution, so thank you.
Next, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale arrived in Geneva today to lead a U.S. delegation attending the Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan. That’s where the international community will review the effort to attain a lasting peace and prosperity for the Afghan people.
Just a few hours ago, Under Secretary Hale met with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including government reform efforts, preparations for presidential elections next year, and also the peace process. In Geneva, Under Secretary Hale is joined by our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, Ambassador John Bass – he’s our ambassador to Afghanistan, and the international community in reaffirming our support for a future of peace and economic development for the people of Afghanistan. The Geneva conference serves as an important opportunity for both to review Afghans’ progress and to start planning for that future.
QUESTION: Okay. Masoud Barzani visited Baghdad and Najaf last week, and it seemed a major step forward in improving ties between Erbil and Baghdad. Was that something that you were involved in, and what’s your comment on it?
MS NAUERT: To my knowledge, we were not involved with that. We would always encourage for the Kurdish Government and the Iraqi Government to meet together, to sit down and have conversations. We encourage constructive dialogue to take place. But to my knowledge, no, we did not have anything to do with that.
QUESTION: Iraq began exporting oil through the Kirkuk pipeline, and now it’s a small amount, but the KRG has increased the capacity of that pipeline to a million barrels a day. Would you – since they could – it could export a million barrels a day, and you’ve got the sanctions on Iran, and Turkey’s a big importer of Iranian oil, would you encourage an increase in the amount of oil that’s being exported from Kirkuk through that pipeline?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think Iraq is and could be an even more important player in the global oil markets, so that’s one thing that we will certainly keep an eye on. In terms of the figures and the stats that you just provided right now, that’s something we just can’t confirm. We can’t confirm that would just refer you to the Iraqi Government for that.
QUESTION: Hi. So senators are saying that Secretary Pompeo along with Secretary Mattis are going to be briefing the all-Senate on Saudi policy or Saudi developments tomorrow. One, could you confirm that that is the case? Because it hasn’t been officially announced to my knowledge.
And two, Senator Sanders’ bill on – asking for a withdrawal of U.S. support for the Yemen war will probably come up for a vote this week or very soon. In March when it first came up, Secretary Mattis sent a letter urging against support for that and I’m wondering, given that – now that Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo have called for a ceasefire and have stopped the refueling of the aircraft, whether the State Department is taking any position or giving any advice in any way with regards to that bill and whether that will come up in the briefing that Mr. Pompeo will be giving on Wednesday.
MS NAUERT: Well, I don’t know if the senators will bring it up. I can confirm that Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis will be on the Hill tomorrow. They will be testifying in a classified setting. It’s an all-Senate-members briefing that will take place at 11 o’clock tomorrow. So I can confirm that that will take place. In terms of legislation that may or may not be developed and addressed and brought forward, I just would – never would comment on that anyway, so – and I wouldn’t get ahead of that either.
QUESTION: Just to go back quickly to the G20, is the Secretary planning for the possibility of a meeting with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia?
MS NAUERT: No, don’t read too much into it. I said to you that the Secretary will be participating in the meetings with the President. We do not have any additional meetings set up. We’re not looking to set up any additional meetings at this time. If anything changes, I will let you know.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, Heather. Last week the President met with Secretary Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton and his peace team – Greenblatt, Kushner, and Ambassador Friedman. Could you share with us any outcome, any calendar, any timetable as far as a peace plan or the release of this peace plan?
MS NAUERT: Yeah, as soon as it is ready to be presented, they will present it. I know that isn’t a very satisfactory answer. A lot of folks, yourself included, have been waiting for that peace plan to be presented, and we will do so just as soon as they’re ready to do that. They had a good meeting last week with Mr. Kushner, Mr. Greenblatt. The Secretary was there as well, also the Vice President and Ambassador Bolton. They discussed the President’s vision for a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We remain committed to sharing our vision for peace with Israel and Palestinians and other regional and international stakeholders. We’ll share that information just as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the Palestinian issue. Today the Israelis issued order for demolishing 16 homes in Shuafat. It’s a neighborhood in Jerusalem. There’s been dozens of arrests of Palestinian officials – in fact, officials that you have trained in security and so on – in Jerusalem. Is – does Israel have a green light or are you looking the other way while all these things go on? I mean, I don’t want to name all the things that happen on daily basis, but there is a – we’re seeing a more heavy-handedness, so to speak, in the conduct of the Israeli occupation against Palestinians. And I wonder if you have a comment on that.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. This is what we would typically say about cases of such a nature, and I can’t confirm those particular cases nor can I confirm the individuals that you mentioned, that you said were allegedly involved in that. We’re not going to be able to respond to every single news report on a very complicated and emotional matter, such a sensitive subject. I know that’s not very satisfying to you, but we would encourage both sides to create an environment that’s conducive not only to negotiations, but also to a comprehensive and enduring peace. So back to the peace plan, we look forward to presenting that just as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Okay, and on Yemen, seems to be a renewed effort to end the war in Yemen. How much is the U.S. involved and why this new round of talks in Sweden is have better chance of succeeding than all the previous ones?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think the important thing that the United States Government and many other governments right now are focusing on is supporting Martin Griffiths, our UN special envoy. And it is obviously a very difficult and complex and tragic situation that has unfolded for far too long in Yemen. It’s something that we care about a lot. The thing that we are focused on – I don’t want to say the most right now, but one of our top things that we’re focusing on – is supporting the work that Martin Griffiths is doing right there. He has a process in place; we believe that he’s making progress. He has some commitments, not only from the Yemeni Government but also from the Houthi rebels, to sit down and have conversations and we think that’s a good place to start. Any time that you can have two sides that have been fighting so fiercely for such a period of time sit down together is certainly progress. We think that that’s critical and we’re focused on that and look forward to bringing you any new information that comes out of that.
QUESTION: Considering Secretary Pompeo’s most recent statement on the Khashoggi affair, will the incident affect if the U.S. wants Saudi Arabia to help forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?
MS NAUERT: Saudi Arabia has taken steps really in the right direction in quite a few key areas. And it wasn’t that long ago that we would highlight, right, how Saudi Arabia has taken steps in helping to further empower women. Do they have a longer way to go? The answer, of course, to that is yes. They have also taken steps in the right direction in conversations with Egypt, Israel as well. I’m not going to speak on behalf either of those governments, but I would just include that in sort of the basket of taking steps in the right direction.