Opening Remarks for Ambassador Barks-Ruggles; World AIDS Day Journalist Briefing

Opening Remarks for Ambassador Barks-Ruggles World AIDS Day Journalist Briefing

Mwaramutse.  Good morning.  I’d like to start by thanking all of you for joining us here today as we gear up to recognize World AIDS Day on December 1st.  I am always happy to talk about the great partnership the U.S. Embassy has with Rwanda to end the HIV epidemic; particularly our work with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Defense, the international community and local NGOs.

The 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 as a public health threat in countries around the world.  Finally, it emphasizes the critical role of transparency, accountability, and partnerships in reaching these goals.

In Rwanda, the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has invested more than one billion USD to support the HIV/AIDS response.  That is part of the more than 70 billion the United States has invested globally through PEPFAR over the past fourteen years to fight this horrible scourge.  This is the single largest investment by one country in the health of humanity in the history.  I am proud that together we are now on course to long-term control.

In Rwanda, PEPFAR supports lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for more than 94,000 people, including over 1,800 children.  This represents 52% of all Rwandans on ART.  And we have a long term commitment that those people will continue to be able to get those life-saving drugs.  Period.

Our work together has put Rwanda on a bold course to achieving epidemic control.  What is HIV epidemic control? It means that the total number of people living with HIV is no longer increasing.  While Rwanda is not yet at HIV epidemic control, with the right push it can be, and soon.  Part of our push is to raise awareness on how everyone can help achieve epidemic control.  So, I am excited to announce that on November 18 at Stade Regional we are partnering with the Global Livingston Institute and the Rwandan Cycling Federation to host a free public health concert featuring some amazing Rwandan and American artists.  In addition to enjoying great music and celebrating Stage 6 of the Tour du Rwanda, our partners will be offering free health services such as HIV testing for the entire day.  We want everyone to come out, take advantage of the many free services being offered, and to learn more about how each one of us can be a part of the solution to this problem.

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 very course of the HIV pandemic, by actually 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 Strategy for Accelerating HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control with ambitious targets to achieve epidemic control in Rwanda (and other focus countries) by the end of 2020.

Rwanda has been a leader in developing pragmatic and innovative approaches to optimizing HIV service delivery, including the early adoption of strategies for pregnant women and their unborn babies; a reduced burden on clinical visits and drug pick-ups for certain HV patients who are stable and can benefit from not needing to visit a clinic or pharmacy so frequently; and TREAT ALL, which provides that a person testing positive for HIV does not need to wait to be “sick enough” to access life-saving treatment, they get drugs from the very first day.

All of this is geared towards ensuring Rwanda reaches the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals by 2020 [90% of PLHIV diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment with a fully suppressed viral load] and that the HIV response is sustainable for the long-term benefit of all Rwandans.

In light of funding uncertainty for HIV and global health programs, I want to stress to the Government of Rwanda the importance of developing a sustainable financing strategy.  This is critical to ensure that Rwanda safeguards the significant progress it has made in the HIV response. We value our partnership with the Government of Rwanda and we are here to help the Government of Rwanda to work within all Ministries – MOH and MINECOFIN especially – to develop long-term sustainable financing options for the national HIV response.

Reaching the 90-90-90 goals and moving to an AIDS Free Generation will be challenging.  Let me speak candidly now.  As many of you know, 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 am encouraging every person who has had more than one sexual partner in the last 12 months 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. Each of us needs to educate each other to stop the spread of HIV.

Together we can beat HIV/AIDs and get to the goal of zero new infections.  I’ll stop there and open the floor for your questions.


Before we close, I want to invite all of you and your readers or viewers to join the Global Livingstone Institute, the Rwandan Cycling Federation, and the U.S. Embassy to celebrate the end of the Tour du Rwanda with a FREE concert at the Stade Regional on Saturday, November 18th beginning at 10am. Our partners are providing FREE health services like voluntary HIV counseling and testing, condoms, and provision of information about voluntary male medical circumcision and other prevention services. There will be performances by Knowless, Riderman and Bruce Melody as well as American acts, S-wrap and D. Sauls.