Remarks by United States Ambassador Natalie E. Brown on Reach Out Mbuya’s 20th Anniversary Celebration
U.S. Embassy Kampala | December 4, 2021
(as prepared for delivery to Reach Out Mbuya offices in Banda, Nakawa division, Kampala)
Good afternoon! I am delighted to join you today for this very special occasion – celebrating 20 years of existence of the Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative, or ROM as we commonly call it. Congratulations on this important milestone! I am particularly touched to see not only the current leaders, but also the former leaders of the ROM, including the CDC Chief Prevention Officer, Stella Alamo-Talisuna, who was ED ROM from 2006 to 2014; so many partners; and of course customers. I am honored to continue the tradition of having an American Ambassador attend your milestones. I understand that one of my predecessors, Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, officiated in 2019 when you celebrated 15 years of PEPFAR, and I look forward to sharing some of today’s photos with him. His past presence and mine today represent the lasting strength of an effective partnership. I’m so happy to help expand it.
The United States government recognizes that a healthy population is the foundation for a country’s social and economic development. Therefore, each year we invest more than $ 500 million in Uganda’s health sector, the bulk of which goes to support HIV programs through PEPFAR, which is the plan for the health sector. emergency of the American president for the fight against AIDS. PEPFAR is the United States government’s response to the global HIV epidemic, representing a country’s largest commitment to tackle a single disease in history.
With the establishment of PEPFAR in 2003, Uganda became a target country for the program, supporting the implementation of HIV prevention, care and treatment services for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. To date, PEPFAR has invested more than $ 4 billion in the fight against HIV in Uganda. Thanks to our US government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US mission in Kampala has enjoyed close collaboration with the ROM, since the start of PEPFAR establishment here. and continues to this day. Currently, the ROM receives funding from PEPFAR through CDC partners, the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Mildmay-Uganda, as well as the implementation of the Integrated Child and Youth Development Activity. USAID in Kampala District through World Education’s Bantwana Initiative.
I’m especially happy to hear that the world’s first PEPFAR client, John Robert Engole, is a ROM client and is here with us today! The story of ROM and Mr. Engole is an important part of the very successful legacy of PEPFAR and the partnership in the fight against the global HIV pandemic. In my work as Ambassador to the United States, I hear a lot about health issues around the world. The current COVID-19 pandemic and emerging and re-emerging epidemics such as Ebola are new, and for many so virulent that they often push existing HIV and TB pandemics down the priority list, which increases the possibility of losing the progress we have made and reappearing as new epidemics. I also hear a lot about the lives affected and the devastating losses, and the resources still needed to meet these challenges. But alongside these sad stories, there are stories that uplift and inspire us. Stories from people like Dr Margrethe Junker, who co-founded the ROM to serve the needs of the community, and stories from beneficiaries like Mr Engole. These demonstrate resilience, impact and sustainability – core tenets of PEPFAR, which US support aims to foster.
From a simple church initiative to provide home care and pray for the sick in the ward during the height of AIDS, you began to provide TB care and referrals to hospitals using the approach. led by nurses from whom Uganda has learned important lessons. You have expanded partnerships to provide nutritional support to poor patients. You set up a livelihood program that included a state-of-the-art sewing workshop for your clients, and you started an orphans and vulnerable children program funded by individual sponsors to deal with the economic hardships of your clients and their families. You saw a need and you responded head-on.
And this was all long before you started receiving PEPFAR funding as a sub-grantee of the Mildmay Center in 2004. Many of you who have lived through it know that this was a time of crisis, and of many health leaders and decision-makers have focused their attention on money and drugs for prevention and treatment. Critical aspects of health care such as emotional, psychological, spiritual and nutritional support have unfortunately been overlooked. But not here at ROM. I commend you for ensuring that addressing these issues is at the forefront of your mission and continues to be the guiding principles of your efforts to this day.
Last Wednesday we commemorated World AIDS Day under the theme “End Stigma, End AIDS, End Pandemics”. While the total number of AIDS deaths has declined over the years thanks to antiretroviral therapy supported by PEPFAR, HIV still causes far too many new infections, especially among young people. Unfortunately, fear of stigma or ostracism makes many reluctant to openly share their HIV diagnosis with their partners and loved ones. Conversations such as the ones we have had today are very critical, and if extended to places of worship, schools, workplaces, and especially homes and community gatherings, will go a long way in helping us end to HIV.
There is also another threat to our collective health: tuberculosis. Although not a new disease, the tuberculosis epidemic has been made worse by the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics. I am therefore delighted that ROM is providing comprehensive HIV and TB services including counseling and testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and prevention of positives in heavily populated and poorly populated communities. services in the city who need these services the most. I learned that ROM was the first health facility in Uganda to eliminate mother-to-child transmission, and I listened with admiration to the testimonies here that with low-cost models like the ROM’s, it is possible to obtain high quality services.
In conclusion, I would like to note that Uganda, like many African countries with the presence of PEPFAR, has experienced challenges and disruption in its programs due to COVID-19. Ugandans have experienced two closures with the two waves of COVID-19 which saw many health facilities filled to capacity, a number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, long-term school closures and the slow roll-out of the vaccine due in part to delays in the introduction of vaccines into the country and now to the reluctance of the Ugandan general public towards vaccines. These challenges have had and will continue to have a critical impact on HIV, TB and other health programs, contributing to preventable deaths.
As we celebrate 20 years of the ROM, let’s celebrate life by receiving our COVID shots if we haven’t already, and encouraging our friends and family to do the same. Remember, when you have underlying illnesses like HIV and tuberculosis, you are at a higher risk of serious illness once you get infected with COVID-19. The United States has now provided nearly 6.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Uganda and nearly three million more will arrive next Monday. The vaccines are there, but they will be of no use if everyone does not take the opportunity to protect themselves and their families against the coronavirus. As they say, “don’t count the things you do, but do the things that matter”. Get your jab up fast. For now, let’s join the ROM in celebrating 20 years of accomplishments that matter.