Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at World AIDS Day Event

Phnom Penh
December 1, 2016

Lok Dzum Teow Men Sam An, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the National Assembly, Senate Relations and Inspection and high representative of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen;
His Excellency Ieng Mouly, Senior Minister in charge of Special Mission and Chairman of the National Aids Authority;
Distinguished colleagues from the Royal Government of Cambodia, Senate, and National Assembly;
Members of the diplomatic corps, development partners, representatives of civil society and community groups of PLHIV and key populations;
Distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this morning and am honored to have been invited to speak on behalf of the U.S. government on World AIDS Day.

As we commemorate World AIDS Day here and around the world, we are gathered here this morning for three reasons:

  • First, and most importantly, we are here to celebrate the significant achievements Cambodia has made over the past 20 years in addressing HIV and AIDS.
  • Second, we are here to recommit ourselves to completing the work needed to ensure that no more lives are needlessly lost from this preventable and treatable disease.
  • And third, we are here to pause for a moment to remember the countless who have been impacted by the epidemic since it was first identified 35 years ago.

We all know that Cambodia has been hit hard by HIV and AIDS. Experts estimate that 115,000 people have died from the disease in Cambodia. But it is also true that Cambodia has made significant progress in addressing this challenge.

Seventy five percent of people living with HIV in Cambodia today are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, and Cambodia is seen as a global leader in this effort.

But if we remember back to when Cambodia first faced HIV, there was no UNAIDS, no Global Fund for HIV, TB and Malaria, and no U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

In those early days, the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people were by and large on their own, and they rapidly moved to address the epidemic. Their bold leadership has helped rewrite history, reversing one of the fastest growing epidemics in Asia and turning Cambodia into one of the greatest success stories in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

90-90-90 Goal and Beyond

We support strongly Cambodia’s goal to become the first country in the world to achieve the global “90-90-90” goals – that is, 90 percent of all individuals living with HIV are diagnosed, 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV are on anti-retroviral therapy, and 90 percent of those on anti-retroviral are virally suppressed.

Put more simply, achieving the 90-90-90 goal will mean that nearly all Cambodians with HIV know their status, have access to medication, and that the medication is working as it should. Achieving this goal will be a remarkable success for Cambodia, and will effectively stop the spread of HIV and ensure a full life for those already living with the virus.

Cambodia has set an even more ambitious goal to reach 95-95-95 by 2025 – just nine years from now. Achieving this goal would be an enormous step forward in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and would further cement Cambodia’s status as a role model in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis.

In the early years of the epidemic, an HIV diagnosis was seen as a sentence to an early death. I remember that feeling of hopelessness from my previous time in Cambodia in the late 1990s. Back then, there were no anti-retroviral medicines available here and seemingly no way to halt the spread of the virus.
Today, thanks to the extraordinary work of public health experts, antiretroviral therapy offers someone with HIV a nearly normal lifespan – assuming that they are diagnosed and started on treatment promptly following infection and stick with their treatment. As a result, millions of people worldwide living with HIV now have hope.

Cambodia’s achievements to date were based in large part on the early adoption of internationally recommended policies, and the development of innovative ways to deliver services to the people who need them. These were smart decisions based on a clear scientific and public policy consensus.

Cooperation in Facing Remaining Challenges

Cambodia’s success to date should give us all confidence that we can also solve the remaining challenges. There are still an estimated 15,000 Cambodians who are infected with HIV but have not been diagnosed. It is imperative that we continue to work together to identify these HIV-infected individuals and get them into live-saving treatment programs.

Another challenge will be implementing the newly adopted guidelines announced this week to immediately put HIV-infected persons on anti-retroviral treatment. This policy change is a significant and welcome development for people living with HIV, who previously had to wait until they became sick before starting treatment.

And as we diagnose more people and get them on anti-retroviral treatment, we must also continue to protect human rights, ensure zero discrimination, and build a legal and policy environment conducive to the delivery of quality HIV prevention and treatment services.

Important Role for Civil Society

Civil society has been a leading force in the response to HIV since the beginning of the epidemic. Civil society organizations work closely with and advocate on behalf of people impacted by HIV and at highest risk of HIV. They bring innovative ideas on addressing stigma and discrimination, on providing quality services, and on finding the remaining undiagnosed cases.

Cambodia has been a leader in ensuring that civil society is at the table in decision-making related to national HIV programs. This collaborative approach has brought great credit to the country, and we hope it continues as we move forward. We believe very strongly that the near-term success and long-term sustainability of Cambodia’s HIV and AIDS response depend on the full engagement of civil society.

U.S. Government Commitment

The U.S. government is honored to have collaborated for over two decades with our Cambodian partners to address the challenge of HIV and AIDS. Our commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic in Cambodia and worldwide remains as strong today as it was twenty years ago.

We have invested in the struggle against HIV and AIDS with our voices, our capacity, and our dollars. PEPFAR is the largest commitment in history by any nation to combat a single disease, and since the program was founded thirteen years ago, the United States has invested over $70 billion globally to support the HIV and AIDS response.

In Cambodia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID work together to implement PEPFAR and engage with the Cambodian government and civil society. In addition to our bilateral assistance, the U.S. government supports and works closely with many multilateral organizations and is the largest contributor to UNAIDS as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Cambodia should be proud of what it has accomplished in the struggle against HIV and AIDS. It has shown the world that it is possible for developing nations to address the AIDS epidemic through strong commitment by the Government, hard work, smart policies, and support from the international community. The virtual end to new HIV infections in Cambodia is now within our grasp.

In closing, I would like to remember back to 2003, at the ceremony marking the creation of PEPFAR. At that event, President George Bush told the audience that “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many”. That remains very true to this day. As much progress as we have made, the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over.

So, on this World AIDS Day, let us all recommit ourselves to the most effective possible collaboration to bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cambodia to a swift end so that the next generation of Cambodians will also be an AIDS-free generation.

Thank you very much.