Ambassador Virginia E. Palmer World AIDS Day Commemoration December 1, 2016 Dedza Stadium

  • Guest of Honor, Her Excellency Madam Dr. Gertrude Mutharika
  • Minister of Health Dr. Peter Kumpalume
  • Secretary for Health, Dr. McPhail Magwira
  • WHO Country Representative Dr. Eugene Nyarko
  • UNAIDS Resident Representative, Ms. Amakobe Sande and other representatives of international organizations
  • The Executive Director of the National AIDS Commission, Mr. Davie Kalomba
  • Members of Parliament present
  • Distinguished Guests
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honored to represent the United States at Malawi’s 2016 World AIDS Day commemoration, where we remember those we lost too soon, but also celebrate the progress we’re making toward our shared vision of ending AIDS by 2030.

I am particularly excited about Malawi’s choice of theme for this year “Hands up for HIV Prevention” which is focused on Empowering Young Women and Girls.  Although Malawi and many other countries have made extraordinary progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS, there is still much to be done, especially in empowering girls and young women to protect their health, stay HIV free, and pursue their dreams.

Before addressing the urgent topic of how we can do better, and especially how we can do better for girls and young women, it is fitting to take some time to applaud the Malawian people and our collective effort for the progress we’ve already made.

By the end of September this year, over 650,000 Malawians were receiving life-saving HIV treatment, with 90% of patients supported by the U.S. Government.  This means that nearly two-thirds of all people living with HIV in Malawi are receiving treatment, a significant achievement.  Among those receiving treatment, about 90% are achieving treatment success, suppressing the HIV virus to low levels, making it very difficult to transmit the virus to others.  These achievements are remarkable and have resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives saved and HIV infections prevented in Malawi.

Malawi’s public health approach to HIV treatment – involving community organizations and community health workers in care and treatment – truly is a model for the rest of the world.

Malawi has led the region with innovative projects like option B-plus treatment for all HIV-positive pregnant women to protect their own health and keep their babies HIV-free.

Malawi was the first country to formally integrate the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals into your National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS and TB.

And, earlier this year, Malawi was one of the first countries to implement the new “Test and Start” revised guidelines for HIV testing and treatment services.  With Test and Start, your health officials now reach out to more people – all kinds of people – young people, older people, married people, homosexuals, unmarried people, and say – Come, get tested.  If you’re negative, we’ll give you strategies to stay negative.  If you’re positive, we can put you on medicine right away that will save your life, protect your quality of life, and help you protect your families and the people you love from infection.

And the results of a recent nation-wide, U.S. Government-funded study, which was led by the Ministry of Health, show Malawi remains a global leader in the HIV Pandemic response.  I am so proud my government has been a key supporter of your efforts.

Here in Malawi the diagnosis of HIV is no longer a death sentence – and that is an accomplishment certainly worth celebrating.

However, I would like to ask Malawi to be a world-leader once again in supporting girls and young women.  Everyday over 1,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV globally, which is 20% of all new HIV infections.  Among adolescents, girls account for three quarters of all new HIV infections.  Why are our girls and young women suffering this disproportionate burden of new HIV infections?  There are two key reasons and I believe these are the next two grand challenges for Malawi’s HIV response.

Firstly, lack of sufficient educational opportunities for girls and young women increases risk of HIV.  A study in Botswana showed that keeping a girl in school an additional year reduced life-time risk of HIV acquisition by about one-third.  We need to make sure our girls complete both primary and secondary school and have opportunities for higher education.

Similarly, no girl or woman should ever experience sexual abuse.  In 2013, a U.S. Government-supported Violence Against Children Study showed that one of every five women in Malawi experiences one or more incidents of sexual abuse before the age of 18.  Ladies and Gentlemen, this cannot continue.

This is why the U.S. Government is investing heavily in the DREAMS initiative.  DREAMS stands for Determined Resilient Empowered AIDS-free and Mentored.  Through substantial investment in schools and keeping girls in school, and innovative HIV prevention interventions, the U.S. Government is partnering with the government of Malawi to improve the future of Malawian girls and young women, and therefore all Malawians.

The second reason women are at more risk of HIV infection than men is that we have not yet reached Malawian men with HIV testing and treatment services to the same extent as we have reached Malawian women.  Malawi has a world-famous HIV treatment program and we need to find innovative ways to reach men with HIV testing and linkage to treatment services.  Together with our Ministry of Health counterparts, the U.S. Government will invest in several pilot projects over the next year to find out what works, so once again Malawi can lead the epidemic response among men living with HIV.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is fitting on this World AIDS Day, where we reflect on our past achievements, that we renew our commitment, and recognize the urgency required, to reduce HIV burden among girls and young women, through keeping our girls in school, using best available services to keep them HIV free, and reaching our men with life-saving HIV testing and treatment services.

We have a “window of opportunity” to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, but we are in a race against time!  There is absolutely no time to waste and no time for complacency. Together, we can save thousands more lives and create a generation of Malawians freed from the devastation of HIV/AIDS.

On behalf of the United States Government, I offer our very sincere congratulations to the Government of Malawi, and the Ministry of Health in particular, for your continuing leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Together let’s continue making Malawi a world leader, this time in reducing the HIV burden among girls and young women.

Zikomo kwambiri!