Op-Ed By Erica Barks-Ruggles, U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda.
In celebration of World AIDS Day, I can say with confidence and pride that by working together we have the ability to control the HIV epidemic in Rwanda by 2020. 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 possible.
For the last 13 years the United States Government’s commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic has been steadfast. We have invested our human and scientific resources, our advocacy, and our dollars to defeat this epidemic. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has invested more than $70 billion (approximately RWF 6 trillion) to support the HIV/AIDS response globally. In Rwanda alone, PEPFAR has invested more than one billion U.S. Dollars (more than Rwf 800 billion) since 2004.
In partnership with the Government of Rwanda, PEPFAR currently supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for more than 94,000 people, including over 4,400 children, fully 51% of all Rwandans on ART. And the United States provides an additional 30% of the funding for the Global Fund, which supports the procurement of the other 49% of ART drugs needed in Rwanda. This past year, PEPFAR has provided voluntary medical male circumcision for more than 175,000 men, enabled more than 110,000 pregnant women to receive HIV testing and counseling, and helped over 120,000 orphans and vulnerable children to receive educational, food, and health and safety benefits – including HIV testing, counseling, and linkage to HIV treatment for those who are positive.
The U.S. theme for World AIDS Day 2017 is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability and Partnerships.” This theme reflects the U.S. government’s longstanding leadership in global HIV/AIDS, increasing our impact to move the epidemic from crisis toward long-term control. It also highlights the historic opportunity all of us have to accelerate progress toward controlling, and ultimately ending, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Finally, it emphasizes the critical role of transparency, accountability, and partnerships in reaching these goals.
We are at a historic moment in the global HIV/AIDS response. For the first time in history, we have the opportunity to change the course of the HIV pandemic, by controlling it, despite the fact that we do not yet have a vaccine and there is no cure. The U.S. Government, through PEPFAR, is supporting these efforts through a new Epidemic Control Strategy with ambitious targets to achieve epidemic control in Rwanda and other focus countries by the end of 2020.
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. This includes ensuring a sustainable financial strategy that will underpin long-term treatment, testing and prevention efforts. For Rwanda, this is critical to ensure that the country safeguards the significant progress it has made in the HIV response. We are working with all relevant Ministries to develop long-term sustainable financing options for the national HIV response
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 all work together to seize this opportunity to put Rwanda on the path toward ending the AIDS epidemic.
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. HIV in Rwanda is mainly spread through sexual contact, and having more than one sexual partner is shown in the recent Demographic Health Survey of 2015 as the greatest risk factor of becoming infected with HIV. For Rwanda to achieve the 90-90-90 goals and to push further to an AIDS Free Generation, I encourage every person who has had more than one sexual partner in the last year to get tested for HIV and help put an end to this epidemic. Know your status, if you are positive protect yourself and your partners and get on ARTs.
Together we can beat HIV/AIDs and get to the goal of zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.