Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec Launch of Kenya’s National Medically Assisted Therapy Program

Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital

-As Delivered-

Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, other distinguished guests.

Waheshima, mabibi na mabwana, Hamjambo. Habari zenu?

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today at the inauguration of Kenya’s Medically Assisted Therapy treatment program for people who inject drugs.  I applaud the Government of Kenya, the Ministry of Health, and the Governors of the participating counties for this historic step, bringing drug dependency out of the shadows and into the public health arena.  It is a challenging step, and I welcome the decision by Kenya to take it.

In December 2000, the great Nelson Mandela said, “HIV/AIDS is the greatest danger we have faced for many, many centuries.  HIV/AIDS is worse than a war.  It is like a world war.  Millions of people are dying from it.”  Since he said those words, through extraordinary cooperation and coordination on a global scale, we have seen significant improvement in the HIV/AIDS crisis, and are closer to winning this war.  But we are not there yet.

In Kenya, the United States has long been committed to fighting HIV, and has made significant investments through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – PEPFAR.  By 2013, we were supporting antiretroviral treatment for more than 6.7 million people.  This unprecedented program has helped us not only to tackle HIV through investment in anti-retroviral treatment, but also through strengthening partnerships with the Kenyan Government to build capacity in public health and to transform its national and county-level health systems.  Globally, and in Kenya, AIDS-related deaths have plummeted and new infections have declined significantly.

As President Obama stated, “an AIDS-free generation is within our reach.”  Yet in order to achieve this goal, it is important to follow the principle of equal treatment and protection, which remains fundamental to all of our work on HIV/AIDS globally as well as in Kenya.

A fundamental concern of the PEPFAR program is bringing HIV prevention, care, and treatment services to all and particularly to populations that are at greatest risk for HIV infection.  It is estimated that the HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs is three to five times that of the general population.

The Medically Assisted Therapy program has proven to be an effective, evidence-based treatment for those who inject drugs, which is why PEPFAR chose to make this program part of a package of services to address the needs of those most vulnerable to HIV infection.  With an estimated 18,000 people in Kenya who inject drugs, it is urgent to scale up drug dependency treatment.  The MAT program will act as an effective tool to help wean people from injecting drug use and hence reduce their risk of HIV infection.  We cannot shy away from addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, and that includes people who inject drugs.

Of course, we know that this program is not just about HIV and not just about reducing drug dependency.  It is about allowing people to free themselves from the disease of addiction and to reclaim productive and fulfilling lives.  It is about supporting people as they regain their self-esteem, confidence, and the trust of their friends and family.  It is about rebuilding communities and preventing future generations from succumbing to the illness of drug dependency.

Many partners have contributed to achieving these goals.  I want to congratulate the Government of Kenya on being the third country in sub-Saharan Africa to initiate a Medically Assisted Therapy program. Again, the leadership of this government and the Ministry of Health in addressing the needs of Kenyans to fight HIV is not to be understated.  I would also like to recognize our implementing partners and the civil society organizations that support those who are participating in the program.  Your assistance is deeply appreciated.

Finally, I want to say congratulations to the over 500 clients who have started the treatment program at Mathari and Malindi clinics.  You have demonstrated great courage and resolve to reclaim your lives from a long and painful journey of addiction.  You represent the hope that awaits many more Kenyans who will choose to undertake this treatment.  Hongera.

Yet our work does not stop today.  Addressing interrelated issues like drug addiction and HIV/AIDS is not just a public health issue, but also a human rights issue.  We cannot treat these epidemics through medical intervention alone – we must also address the inherent human rights challenges of those affected by disease.  Human rights among drug users, LGBT people, women, and youth remain under threat, creating additional barriers to key populations accessing HIV/AIDS and other health services.  Equality and dignity for all is critical if we are to achieve our ambitious goal for an AIDS-free generation.

I am heartened by the progress we are making here today.

Through our continuing partnership, cooperation, and dedication, we can achieve even more in the future.

Pamoja tusonge mbele.

Asante sana.