Remarks for Ambassador Peter Vrooman
Rwanda Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA) Release Event
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
« as prepared for delivery »
Good afternoon. We are at a historic moment in the global HIV/AIDS response, reaching the last few miles on the road towards epidemic control. Rwanda is a global leader in the fight against HIV thanks to strong leadership, steadfast commitment, and strategic partnerships. The U.S. Government, through PEPFAR, supported this effort over the past 15 years and looks forward to continuing the relationship as Rwanda builds a roadmap for the future of the HIV response across the country.
Today, we have been presented with evidence of the enormous progress that Rwanda has achieved over the past15 years. However, the journey is not over. These final steps towards reaching and sustaining epidemic control may be the most difficult to achieve, but we also know that Rwanda is up to the challenge.
People with HIV depend on the effective collaboration between the Ministry of Health, civil society organizations, people living with HIV, the U.S government, UNAIDS, Global Fund, and many others to improve the national HIV response. These collective efforts include enhancing HIV prevention activities, optimizing healthcare services for people living with HIV and strengthening the national health system even further. Using data from RPHIA, we must continue to work together to develop and refine strategic approaches to reach the populations who have been missed (that is, the “first 95”), or those who are not linked to treatment (the “second 95”) or those whose viral load is not suppressed (the “third 95”) .
RPHIA highlighted certain groups who will require focused attention in the coming years to meet the 95/95/95 goals. We need to find young men and women between the ages 15-34 and ensure that the health services they need are accessible to them.
Last week, I met some girls who have benefited from the DREAMS program, giving me even further insight into the importance of strengthening prevention programming in the country to empower young girls and keep them HIV-free and help them prevent transmission of HIV to their newborns. The results from RPHIA give us an opportunity to target such interventions as well as develop new and innovative approaches to reach young men and other groups that have been identified.
I’d like to close by referring to the Rwandan saying “Kugera kure si ko gupfa,” which I would translate as “getting too far (with illness) doesn’t necessarily mean ending up dying.” With advances in available treatment, robust leadership, and dedicated focus, Rwanda has made huge strides in controlling the HIV epidemic. These strides have created an environment in which a diagnosis of HIV is no longer the sentence that it once was. “Kugera kure si ko gupfa.”
On the contrary, someone diagnosed with HIV can live a long and healthy life with proper medication – which is available free of charge here and if people stay on medication, the virus level is effectively reduced to the extent that it cannot be sexually transmitted. As we close the distance of this last mile towards epidemic control, the findings from RPHIA will give us the information we need to ensure that all people living with HIV in the country do not get too far (with illness) and are given the opportunity to live long and healthy lives.