The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Partnering to Fight HIV/Aids

opinion

Every year on December 1, we commemorate World Aids Day. It is a day to reflect on the lives lost and forever changed, as a result of Aids. It is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. Today, we celebrate those lives saved and improved in Zimbabwe and recommit to the fight against Aids.

The world has made tremendous progress over the last 30 years through research and innovation in science. We recognise that because of the advances made and the lessons learned, we can now look ahead to an Aids-free generation.

Ending Aids is a shared responsibility. Here in Zimbabwe, we must continue to work together to increase our efforts in the response. Everyone has a role to play -- Government leaders, the private sector, multilateral organisations, civil society, media, faith-based organisations and each one of us.

Since 2000, the United States government has invested nearly US$300 million in Zimbabwe's fight against the HIV virus. We will invest nearly US$92 million dollars through PEPFAR -- the US president's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief -- in Zimbabwe over the next year. I am proud to say the US is the first and largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and has made an historic multi-year pledge of US$4 billion for 2011-2013.

Progress towards country leadership of HIV/Aids programs is essential for gains to be sustainable in the long term. Through PEPFAR, the United States is working closely with Zimbabwe to build the country's capacity to lead an effective national response.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has used the term "country ownership" to describe the end state where a nation's efforts are led, implemented and eventually paid for by its government, communities, civil society, and the private sector. To arrive at this point, each country's leaders must set priorities and develop national plans to accomplish them in concert with their citizens.

The US recognises Zimbabwe's leadership in implementing HIV/Aids programs and is committed to continuing our partnership in this direction.

I recently returned to Zimbabwe as ambassador after serving as the Counsellor for Public Affairs here at the US Embassy from 1999-2003. I am thrilled to be back in this beautiful country. It is good to see concrete improvements in the fight against HIV. Our work together on HIV provides a model for co-operation that I will seek to replicate in other parts of our relationship.

Zimbabwe has made progress in turning the tide on this terrible disease, and the United States through PEPFAR is proud to play a supporting role. For example, life-saving anti-retroviral treatment is a critical intervention in Zimbabwe, keeping people with HIV alive and helping them to avoid transmitting the virus to others.

Zimbabwe is on its way to achieving universal treatment coverage, with more than 85 percent of those eligible on treatment, by the end of this year with the United States supporting anti-retroviral medications for 80 000 Zimbabweans.

Next year, the United States will support anti-retroviral medication for an additional 60 000 men, women, and children in Zimbabwe and the following year will again expand to a grand total of 160 000 individuals. Ongoing US support for laboratory testing, training, and quality improvement also contribute substantially to the national treatment program.

PEPFAR has directly supported over 521 000 people in Zimbabwe with care and support programs, including nearly 121 000 orphans and vulnerable children. PEPFAR's efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns have allowed nearly 50 000 HIV-positive mothers to receive antiretrovirals, thus reducing the risk of HIV transmission to their babies.

This progress, evidenced by millions of lives saved, is remarkable, but there is more to do. We are using recent scientific advances to implement more effective programs to provide HIV prevention, treatment and care to millions of people worldwide, including in communities throughout Zimbabwe.

In all we do, we are focusing on using our resources as effectively and efficiently as possible to maximise the impact of our investments and save more lives. Through strong leadership from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the National Aids Council and in collaboration with the Global Fund and PEPFAR, treatment in Zimbabwe has reached universal access and continues to be rolled out to the benefit of those living with HIV in Zimbabwe.

Additionally, through the leadership of the health ministry and NAC, prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission continues to be expanded with over 1 560 sites offering treatment of HIV positive mothers to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies.

Global health is a shared responsibility and it is more essential than ever that countries work closely with external partners such as the United States and key multilateral organisations like Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Together, PEPFAR and the Global Fund supported over 70 percent of all persons on anti-retroviral treatment in developing countries worldwide in 2011.

As we look to the future, the United States remains committed to the global HIV/Aids response. We will continue to work closely with Zimbabwe and its partners to move towards a long-term response that saves even more lives.

David Bruce Wharton is US Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

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