Ambassador Terence P. McCulley Opening Remarks at “Spotlight SIDA” Launch Event

 Ambassador Terence P. McCulley during the Opening Remarks

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome.  Thank you for joining us today.  We at the United States Embassy are very happy to  launch a new and exciting initiative supported by PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief.  This initiative, entitled “Spotlight SIDA,” was developed in partnership with Voice of America and RTI television and radio.

“Spotlight SIDA” is comprised of a weekly radio show and a bimonthly television program.  Over the course of the next year, these programs will touch on a variety of complex issues related to HIV and AIDS.  The goal of this initiative is to increase awareness, circulate information, and promote discussion among Ivoirians regarding HIV and its implications on a personal and national level.

The initial programs will focus on the status of HIV and AIDS in Côte d’Ivoire.

PEPFAR has been working to turn the tide of HIV and AIDS globally for ten years, and the United States Government has been engaged in the fight even prior to that.  Over the past couple of years, it appears that we have finally reached a tipping point, with fewer deaths and fewer new infections due to better prevention and more widely available care and treatment.  In fact, in 2012 over 230,000 infant HIV infections were averted, and over five million people were on treatment.

In Côte d’Ivoire, PEPFAR has contributed to ensuring that almost 110,000 people living with HIV have access to lifesaving treatment.  In 2013, over 13,000 HIV-positive mothers received medication to prevent HIV transmission to their infants.

These results are not merely numbers: they represent lives saved.   In June of 2013, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced the one millionth baby born HIV-free.  These ten years of intensive efforts have changed the landscape, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Amidst these successes, we continue to work toward a generation not only free of AIDS, but free of stigma and discrimination.  We know that despite our progress, we cannot be complacent about the work that remains.

With the recent release of new data through the Demographic and Health Survey, we learned that the level of comprehensive knowledge of HIV among Ivoirians is lower than we would wish.  Although well over 90% of people have heard of HIV, only 14% of women and 24% of men have an in-depth knowledge of the disease.   The United States Government works in conjunction with the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to reinforce national systems and promote the health of all Ivoirians, which includes prevention, care, and treatment of HIV and AIDS.  To that end, we would like to help empower Ivoirians with accurate and timely information that increases their understanding of HIV transmission and prevention methods, raises awareness of available testing and treatment programs, plus helps motivate individuals and communities to take action against stigma and discrimination in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We are fortunate to be working in partnership with Voice of America, which has already paved the way to heighten visibility of HIV and AIDS issues at a national level in other francophone countries, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  There, Voice of America has trained a network of journalists on HIV reporting and linked HIV stories into a network of community radio stations across the country.  Here in Côte d’Ivoire, it has undertaken similar journalist training sessions, and now “Spotlight SIDA” will take these efforts to the next level.

The United States Government has the honor of pursuing this initiative with the national television and radio station, RTI.  This partnership is essential, because RTI, with its rich history and experience in country, has the expertise to create an exciting program and has the reach to disseminate these shows to a large audience.  Through its expert production and hosting, RTI will ensure that over the coming year and beyond this quality product effectively explores issues relevant to all Ivoirians.

Through this partnership, we hope to address an issue I mentioned before, and which continues to be a challenge: HIV related stigma and discrimination.  We have learned through the Demographic and Health Survey that only one in thirteen women and one in six men expressed tolerance toward people living with HIV.  One element that can help reduce stigma and discrimination is dissemination of accurate information.  Another is open and frank discussion.  Our sincere wish is that “Spotlight: SIDA” will provide pertinent information and foster discussion on a daily, informal level among Ivoirians throughout the country.  Where possible, “Spotlight: SIDA” will also give voice to the lived experience of people living with HIV and AIDS in Côte d’Ivoire.

We thank you for your presence here today in support of the “Spotlight: SIDA” launch.  We encourage you to tune in to the television and radio programs and use them as an opportunity to begin discussions about HIV and AIDS with your friends and family.