Remarks Delivered at the PROVIC Dinner in Honor of World Aids Day
By: James F. Entwistle | Delivered: December 1, 2011, Hotel Venus
[As prepared for delivery]
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here with you tonight to commemorate World AIDS Day. When AIDS was first discovered in 1981, just thirty years ago, doctors knew virtually nothing about the disease. Today, we know a great deal more. We understand how it is transmitted, how it constantly mutates in the body and how it can hide in someone’s immune system. We know how to attack the virus and how to stop its spread. While AIDs is still an incurable disease, it is no longer the death sentence it once was.
Much of the progress has stemmed from partnership. Around the world, governments, businesses, communities, activists, and individuals have come together to give their time, money and energy to fight against AIDS. Here in the DRC, the United States has been proud to partner with the country in its efforts to combat the disease. Recent years have seen our investment in fighting HIV/AIDS double and then triple, with projects aimed at every sector of society. On a national level, we are working with the Ministry of Social Affairs to implement its new plan to care for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children and we have provided technical assistance on the development of pharmaceutical supply chains to ensure that antiretroviral drugs are more widely available. With the assistance of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, we now have the capacity to finance the life-saving drugs for 350,000 women until they can be enrolled in the GDRC’s programs.
As Ambassador, I have been fortunate enough to witness these efforts first hand. A few months ago, my wife and I visited the people of Kinzau Mvuete in Bas-Congo. With the assistance of USAID, this community of more than 18,000 people has worked together to tackle the social and structural conditions that make them vulnerable to HIV. Their latest project involved the creation of mobile testing and counseling centers to encourage the population to confront the disease and reduce its devastating consequences. While there, we joined in the line to receive testing – both to show support for their efforts and to help to dispel the stigma associated with getting tested with one’s spouse or partner.
The world of HIV mobile testing units may seem far removed from your daily life, but I believe that we all – businessmen, diplomats and NGO health workers alike – have a stake in this. At the end of the day, we share a dream -- to see a secure, democratic and prosperous Congo. But at this moment, AIDS is standing in the way of the development necessary to realize that dream, because while we have made progress in our fight against the disease, it is still responsible for tearing apart families, limiting productivity, and killing the educated middle class – the very people who are key to the country’s future.
To overcome this hurdle, we need to create what my boss, Hilary Clinton, recently described as an “AIDS-free generation.” As she stated, we need to usher in a world where, first, virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today thanks to a wide range of prevention tools; and third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.
The U.S is proud to help in this fight and to support the Congo in its efforts to eliminate HIV. But what I said about past progress stemming from partnership is surely true about the future as well. To create an “AIDS-free Generation,” every national actor - the government, the health industry, the NGOs and the private sector – must work together for the future of this country. And in these economic times, with budgets tightening around the world, the pressure on domestic organizations is even greater. But ultimately, everyone has something to contribute to the cause, whether in terms of financing, expertise or simply time and assistance.
Our goals are ambitious, but I believe they are possible. There are signs of hope everywhere: from the testing tents in Kinzau Mvuete to the commitment on display in this room.
The challenges are great, but we can’t stop now. Together, let’s keep focused on the future, of our goal of an AIDS-free, prosperous and secure Congo.