Remarks by Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto at the 2016 PEPFAR Annual Meeting in Durban

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Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto (U.S. Mission photo archive)

2016 PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) Annual Meeting
Remarks by Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto

Durban, South Africa
July 16, 2016

Thank you, Ambassador Birx.

It is such an honor to be part of this panel and it is inspiring to see so many dedicated colleagues here in one place, all with the shared purpose of supporting countries around the world in their efforts to put a stop to the devastation caused by this epidemic.

I would like to take just a minute to highlight the importance of multilateral engagement in support of these efforts.  In fact, both President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made it clear that many of the global challenges the United States is facing today require multilateral solutions.  HIV/AIDS is certainly one of them.  And our UN and international partners are absolutely essential if we are to identify and implement any of these solutions.

UN partners play critical roles – including convening, sharing best practices, empowering civil society and providing up-to-date data for decision makers at local and national levels.  However, while there is much we are currently doing together with multilateral partners, there remains significant untapped potential to leverage our resources and expertise for better results. I have seen this potential in action during my time as Ambassador to the UN in Geneva – the operational hub of the UN system, and as such, I believe we have a critical role to play in supporting the important work taking place in the field.

If we are to truly get on the fast track to ending the AIDS epidemic, we need to surround vulnerable populations – in particular adolescent girls and young women – with comprehensive support and services in every aspect of their lives.  Time and again, research and experience have shown that holistic, multi-sectoral responses lead to better outcomes for women and girls, and therefore for their families and their communities.

And that is why, last year, my team and I launched a cross-cutting initiative called The Future She Deserves – to mobilize the international community across Geneva around the protection and empowerment of women and girls – with one of its key pillars focused on the unique needs of adolescent girls.

The Future She Deserves is grounded in the belief that all stakeholders can achieve more by building linkages and alliances across sectors; that we must push ourselves to envision creative ways for collaboration that will unleash new opportunities for women and girls, and more effectively harness their capacity to lead and to drive change in their communities.

Dialogues begun under this initiative have contributed to more forward leaning strategies at UNAIDS that include comprehensive sexuality education, and at WHO, where new global plans for addressing violence as a public health issue and for promoting adolescent health were adopted at the World Health Assembly this past May.

The Future She Deserves has served as a platform for key stakeholders in Geneva to explore new ideas, and quickly became fertile soil for other multi-stakeholder projects.  Following a series of brainstorming salons that we convened with leaders and experts from different sectors, an idea emerged for a new leadership network focused on gender equality – one that would capitalize on the wide array of expertise present in Geneva.

This network – branded “Geneva Gender Champions” — currently has 115 members – consisting of Ambassadors, heads of International Organizations, and leaders of other Geneva-based institutions who have all made specific commitments to promote gender equality, and less than one year after its inception, we are already seeing significant progress.  To me, this is proof of what organizations can achieve when they work together toward a common goal.

It should come as no surprise that the discussions that have been taking place among Geneva Gender Champions involve our global health leaders.  As you know, they are some of the most committed and passionate voices speaking out on behalf of adolescent girls’ health.  Meetings with colleagues like Seth Berkley from Gavi, Margaret Chan from WHO, and Michel Sidibe and his team at UNAIDS have led to in-depth discussions in both Geneva and Washington around potential new opportunities provided by Gavi’s roll out of the HPV vaccine in many parts of Africa, including PEPFAR DREAMS countries, and the potential synergies to be created by linking programmatic efforts together under country leadership.

We held very productive discussions with HHS Secretary Burwell and Health Ministers from Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe during the recent World Health Assembly, where the concept of “HPV+” was further developed.  These initial discussions have led us to believe that we have a unique opportunity to provide targeted educational materials and additional health interventions to adolescent girls who receive the HPV vaccine.  Preliminarily, we have been focusing on a few key areas – the “+” if you will — areas such as body literacy, violence prevention, and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education and services.

And I’d like to particularly thank Ambassador Birx for her early and strong support to these discussions.

I spoke about the benefits we’ve seen from our efforts to build alliances across sectors and organizations.  Similarly, why not use valuable operational platforms provided by initiatives such as DREAMS to increase buy-in and support for HPV vaccinations at exactly the time more countries are preparing national HPV roll out plans in partnership with Gavi?  This potential linkage comes at a time when the cost of HPV vaccination programs are unexpectedly high – a time when we need more models and data on affordable scale-up strategies.  I’m convinced a successful HPV+ initiative will help pave the way for more countries to coordinate with Gavi and submit national HPV plans.

To that end, we look forward to working with PEPFAR, Gavi, WHO, UNAIDS and other partners to take this idea forward. We urge PEPFAR teams to continue to think creatively about how they can work with UN partners and other relevant actors to ensure our programs are most effectively benefitting the “whole girl,” a concept being actively supported by our Future She Deserves initiative.

Let me close by recognizing the incredible work of PEPFAR country teams and their valuable contribution to global health and our collective goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.  I know that I speak for my entire team at the U.S. Mission in Geneva when I say that we are available to support your work and to help all our international partners maximize their impact.  Using all of our tools – diplomatic, technical and programmatic – we can make a difference in the lives of adolescent girls and ensure that this generation of young women grows up healthier and with greater opportunities than ever before.

Thank you.