Remarks to Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
February 1, 2010

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, María Otero, on February 1, 2010 delivered opening remarks to the meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) held on the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

In addition to commending their collective leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Under Secretary Otero encouraged the assembled First Ladies to leverage their leadership positions also to tackle the challenge of human trafficking – particularly of women and girls.

The following are Under Secretary Otero’s remarks:

Thank you to the Organization of African First Ladies for inviting me to be here with you today. 

It is an honor to be with such distinguished women. Since the first time I came to Africa—many, many years ago—I have been struck by the power of strong, courageous women across this continent.  From Ghana to South Africa to Botswana to Ethiopia and many countries in between, it has been my privilege to meet and work with African women on the great challenges of this region.

Today, I want to thank each and every one of you for your leadership and personal dedication in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The United States is proud to be partnering with the women and men of Africa to support this effort.

In 2003, we launched the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  It is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history.  Under PEPFAR, the United States has already committed approximately $25 billion to the fight against global HIV/AIDS.  And President Barack Obama reaffirmed our strong commitment to this work in his recent State of the Union address.

When PEPFAR was announced seven years ago, approximately 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral treatment.  Today, PEPFAR directly supports life-saving treatment for more than 2.4 million people worldwide, the vast majority of whom are in in sub-Saharan Africa.

Just last year, PEPFAR directly supported essential care for nearly 11 million people.  And we provided testing and counseling—both crucial elements of prevention and rehabilitation—for nearly 29 million people.  And we are working to prevent mother-child transmission for hundreds of thousands.

But as you in this room know, this is not just about the numbers.  This is about the future of Africa and the women who carry this great continent on their backs.  We must continue to walk forward, into the tempest that is HIV/AIDS.  And in moving forward, we will make all the more progress if we walk together.

The United States is committed to working closely with all of you—and your governments—to mount a coordinated response to the global burden of this disease.

So, allow me to tell you how: First, we are going to begin transitioning from an emergency response to a sustainable one through greater engagement with and capacity building of governments.  PEPFAR has already started this with Partnership Frameworks, which are five-year strategic plans developed in collaboration with our partner governments, including many in Africa.

Second, we are going to focus on prevention. We are going to scale up highly effective prevention interventions like male circumcision and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and we have set a goal of providing antiretroviral treatment to 4 million people.

And as we talk about expanding our fight against this terrible scourge on Africa, I want to encourage you to open your eyes to another, related challenge.  And that is the terrible problem of human trafficking—especially of women and girls.  This is when women and men are in situations of forced labor or sexual abuse, without escape or refuge.  Trafficking still exists today—around Africa and around the world—and it is a problem that merits the highest levels of attention. 

I had the honor of meeting with the Honorable Azeb Mesfin two days ago, and we had a very productive conversation about this challenge.  So today I not only want to thank you for the work you are already doing to combat HIV/AIDS, but also encourage you to take on this additional challenge in your own countries, knowing that the United States is standing ready to support your efforts.

The history of the fight against HIV/AIDS has demonstrated what can happen when we dare to think big.  And on behalf of Michelle Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton, I am here today to say that we are with you. [Applause]

Thank you for your ongoing leadership.  You are leading your respective countries as you address key challenges of peace and development.  And as Secretary Clinton says, one cannot develop a country without empowering its women first.  So I thank you for your work and for allowing me to share this time with you today.  Thank you.