Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ambassador Eric Goosby, MD Headshot

Two Extraordinary Days in South Africa

Posted: Updated:

On Sunday, I had the honor of joining President Barack Obama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and leaders of several local non-governmental organizations at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) Kethuphila Youth Center in Cape Town, South Africa. Together, we witnessed firsthand the incredible impact of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in South Africa and the exceptional leadership of the South African government and its people in combating HIV/AIDS.

At the DTHF Kethuphila Youth Center, President Obama spoke eloquently and powerfully about the strong partnership that has been built during his administration between our two countries in tackling this tremendous challenge, and of the extraordinary progress that is underway. A decade ago, few South Africans had access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ART). Today, through the combined efforts of the United States, South Africa, and other partners, more than 1.6 million South Africans are on ART. This is a true testament to the strength and perseverance of the South African people, and the generosity of the American people.

At the Youth Center, we met many of the real heroes in the AIDS response -- men and women who work daily on the frontlines of the epidemic, saving lives and creating hope. From the counselors operating the mobile HIV and tuberculosis testing and counseling clinic, to the committed staff who devote their energies and talents to empowering South African youth, to the young people who are taking control of their own lives and charting the course to a better future; it was a deeply inspiring afternoon.

Yesterday, I was also fortunate to visit the Hout Bay Clinic in Western Cape Province, where I announced an additional $10 million in PEPFAR funding to support South Africa's ongoing efforts to expand voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention. South Africa has been a true pioneer in expanding access to VMMC -- a proven one-time intervention that reduces men's risk of becoming infected with HIV by approximately 60 percent. In fact, one of the landmark studies that first demonstrated this profound prevention impact was conducted in South Africa's Orange Farm community.

To date, PEPFAR has contributed $140 million to South Africa's VMMC for HIV prevention program, helping to support more than 275,000 VMMC procedures through the end of September 2012. If eight out of ten South African men aged 15 to 49 become circumcised in five years' time, it is estimated that more than one million new HIV infections could be prevented by 2025, saving approximately $5.5 billion in averted treatment costs. It is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing.

Since 2004, PEPFAR has invested more than $3.7 billion in supporting South Africa's HIV/AIDS response. For its part, South Africa has moved to the forefront of leadership in the HIV response both at home and throughout the world, committing substantial domestic financial resources and contributing significant technological advances through its researchers and up-and-coming young doctors and scientists. As President Obama noted yesterday, "South Africa is now leading the way in caring for its citizens, in paving the way for a brighter future for the South African people and their families, and I am very proud the United States has been such a terrific partner on this issue."

As a result of our combined efforts, and with additional support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other partners, South Africa is now near the critical programmatic tipping point in its epidemic -- the point at which the number of new annual adult HIV infections falls below the annual increase in adults on ART. Increasingly, South Africa is on the path to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

It will take hard work and continued leadership to reach this goal, but if what I saw during the last few days is any indication, I firmly believe that South Africa can get there.