26 August 2021
Honorable Prime Minister- Mr. Cleopas Dlamini
Honorable Minister of Health, Senator Lizzie Nkosi
Representatives from Ministry of Health
Representatives from Ministry of Information Communication and Technology
UN family representatives
PEPFAR agency leadership
Ministry of Health Senior Staff
Researchers joining virtually
Ladies and gentlemen
It is my honor and privilege to be with you today at the 5th National Health Research Conference. Some of you may have participated in the previous national health research conference conducted in 2017. At that conference, researchers and technical experts shared valuable scientific information across health disciplines that subsequently informed programmatic and policy changes, improving public health. I have no doubt that this year’s conference, on the role of research in addressing COVID-19, will also have a positive impact.
Bringing together experts and researchers to share evidence on this issue couldn’t fall at a better time, given that we are in the midst of a third COVID-19 wave. Indeed, our national, regional, and global response to COVID has only been possible due to astute surveillance and timely research. The development of rapid diagnostic tests, determination of effective treatment interventions, understanding of transmission patterns to inform prevention measures, and development of a vaccine all relied on smart scientists asking tough questions and seeking the answers. It is hard to contemplate where we would be in the trajectory of this pandemic had dedicated researchers and technical experts not shared information across the global community.
The United States is proud to support this conference through ICAP-Eswatini and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. Over the past 16 years, through PEPFAR the United States Government has invested over E8 billion in Eswatini focused on expanding the HIV and TB programs and strengthening the health system. PEPFAR activity is guided by research and rigorous data review, and evolves every year as new studies demonstrate ever more effective ways to control the epidemic.
By holding programs accountable to evidence-based goals and standards, PEPFAR investments have elevated Eswatini to one of only two countries on the African continent to meet HIV epidemic control targets: 95% of people living with HIV identified; 95% of those identified taking anti-retroviral treatment; and 95% viral suppression among those taking it. This was only possible due to the value that the Eswatini Ministry of Health places on data driven programming, and their proactive approach adapting national guidance and policy. The fact that we are holding this 5th National Health Research Conference today is testament to the Ministry’s commitment to utilizing research to drive programming.
Over the past year, the U.S. Government has provided support to the COVID-19 response, including strengthening contact tracing, surveillance, laboratory testing, infection prevention and control, and case management. Again, these investments have been built around evidence generated both locally and globally. Our donation of 302,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will cover nearly half of the adult population in the country; the donation would not have been possible without the substantial research efforts that went into vaccine development.
We commend Eswatini for your research collaboration with the WITS University, Oxford, and Astra Zeneca to contribute additional vaccine efficacy data that will help inform future vaccine guidance.
Health research underpins public health policy and supports improved public health outcomes. This conference presents an opportunity to build capacity and collaboration among Eswatini health care workers, scientists, and researchers. It is also a platform to engage in discussions about how Eswatini can learn from – and contribute to – local and global lessons to improve COVID-19 response interventions.
In preparing for today’s event, I reflected on the depth of our bilateral health partnership. A nation’s citizens are its most treasured resource, and our work together over the years has saved thousands of lives in this country, and improved the quality of life for countless more. It is all the more troubling, then, to have witnessed a level of unrest and violence that has stunned the nation and drawn attention and concern from across the globe. Many, including my government, have called for broad and inclusive dialogue to help heal the nation. In the United States, we strongly believe in the right of people to petition their government. We also strongly believe in an independent Judiciary, which answers neither to the executive nor the legislative branch. We believe these values are shared among many peoples around the word, including here in Eswatini. At a moment when the world is watching more closely than ever before, Eswatini has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to these principles.
The United States is committed to continued collaboration with Eswatini to strengthen participation in and utilization of health research. I’d like to encourage all presenters and participants to ensure that sound and scientific evidence is not only presented, but also used to inform health policy decision making and further refine the multi-sectoral COVID-19 epidemic response. As Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
I wish you all a successful conference. Siyabonga.