U.S. Department of State
For Immediate Release
November 27, 2018
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It’s good to see all of you. Alma, thanks for that kind introduction. Ambassador Birx, thank you for hosting this wonderful Summit. Thank you for the extraordinary work you and the PEPFAR team do day in, day out. As Alma said, we are proud to be part of your team. And it is a team. And it is a multi-sectoral, community-wide global effort, and we are truly honored to be a part of it.
Many of us who are here this afternoon, I think, were drawn here by experiences and people that we’ve encountered along the way. In my case, every World Aids Day, I can’t help but recall a poor Tanzanian lady that I met many years ago. I met her on the outskirts of the city of Morogoro. I was part of a small team that day who were bringing food to families that had been rocked by the AIDS disease, the pandemic. I’ll never forget, when we reached this lady’s home, it was a rickety structure. Quite frankly, it looked more like an abandoned farm shed than it did where human beings had actually lived. There were no windows. The only light they had was a few beams that get through holes in the corrugated tin walls. The floor was dirt. There were a few holes to suggest where there might have been rooms at one time.
I remember our eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness. When they did, our poor host came into view. She was naturally a little overwhelmed, but she still invited us into her home and she began to relax as we opened up the box with the sacks of grain that we had. She even smiled as we greeted some of her children who were running in and out of the door. Her breathing was labored and noisy, but she was grateful for the modest food that we had been able to bring. And she was so delighted with the company that she wanted to take time to talk, and she told us her story.
It turns out she was once a very successful businesswoman. But now her husband had passed away from AIDS, she had lost one of her children, and as the doctor in our group would say later, she was in the homestretch herself. Her soft, labored voice made her Kiswahili hard to follow, so we had to have a translator. But then she said to me, she said, “Balozi (Ambassador), I have a question for you.” And I was struck. She was so obviously earnest and sincere. She wasn’t looking to make points. She wasn’t looking for effect, wasn’t looking for pity. She was sincerely looking for answers. And she said to me, “With this last little bit of money that I have, should I buy textbooks for my children who are healthy or medicine for those who are not?” How do you answer a question like that? I couldn’t.
Before PEPFAR or the Global Fund, the world had no path for conquering or even containing the terrible AIDS pandemic. We offered no hope at all to those who were afflicted. Countless people who were struck by this terrible disease were condemned to the choices that that poor Tanzanian mother faced. The phrase “living with HIV” made no sense. It held no meaning. It could not be.
But 15 years ago, the world awakened. We saw the human tragedy unfolding in communities all across Africa, all across the Caribbean, all across the world. Our hearts were broken. We mobilized unprecedented levels of funding. As precious as taxpayer dollars were and are, we also knew that without the money to buy medicine or build clinics or train healthcare workers, many of the fires that were burning all across the world couldn’t be extinguished.
But we also knew that money alone wasn’t enough. We could not possibly restore hope in many of those communities. We needed to empower and unleash what President Bush used to call the armies of compassion: the communities of faith, faith-based organizations represented by many of you here this afternoon. To turn the tide, we needed to reach into every corner, every community, especially those the government institutions has forgotten or left behind. To turn the tide, we needed to enlist voices that were trusted by at-risk populations and their neighbors. We needed them to help us tackle stigma, the kind of stigma that too often accompanied an HIV diagnosis in those days. We needed to harness trusted voices that could encourage people to come forward for testing and to stay on their regimens. Simply put, there are no voices more trusted than elders and faith leaders in their communities
So this week, we are celebrating historic progress on the mission that was described as hopeless not so long ago. And we’re celebrating progress, not victory. There is much, much work ahead of us. I would say that the most important days are still ahead of us.
At USAID we say that the purpose of our assistance must be ending its need to exist. So our goal, our primary objective is to help countries on their journeys to self-reliance so they can better respond to their people and chase their own bright future. In the fight against AIDS, we are re-dedicating ourselves, working through PEPFAR, and with all of you to empower communities and countries to gradually assume ownership of their own healthcare challenges. We’ll incentivize reforms, strengthen in-country capacity, and we will help prepare a generation to claim their rightful leadership roles.
Just as it was 15 years ago, the key to success will be all of you here this afternoon and those who you represent. So we ask you, as we did 15 years ago, to join forces with us. We need a new generation of citizens who understand HIV and how it is spread, who feel no stigma but are driven and powered by compassion. We need a new generation of leaders who take responsibility for those afflicted and those in need. You can make all the difference in getting there.
Earlier I suggested that we’ve all been brought here by people that we’ve met along the way. There’s another African lady that I’ll never forget, a Ghanaian lady named Cynthia. I only met her several weeks ago when I was in Accra for the visit of the First Lady, Melania Trump. Cynthia was first diagnosed with HIV in 2008, and when she was she faced terrible stigma and discrimination. Neighborhood children would not play with her kids, and she was even shunned by others at the healthcare facility that she attended for treatment. So who’d have blamed her if she gave up? But she didn’t. She came forward to join a program launched by USAID and Ghana’s Ministry of Health to recruit and train HIV-positive peer counselors to support ARV treatment. She became one of the program’s models of hope. They’re called that because they accept their HIV status and because they are determined to live promising lives, lives that lift others up despite their diagnosis. Cynthia has helped hundreds diagnosed with HIV to adhere to their treatment, learn how to stay healthy and keep their spouses and children healthy as well. She has shown her neighbors that HIV is not a death sentence unless we let it be. Cynthia credits what she’s accomplished to her training and her faith. She is a model of hope for all of us.
We’ve made a lot of progress over these last 15 years, but we have a lot left to do. A famous American President, Teddy Roosevelt, once said about 100 years ago, he said, “Far and away the greatest prize that life has to offer is to do hard work that is worth doing.” That’s it. That’s why we’re here. Hard work, really hard work, the work worth doing.