I want to warmly welcome you to Rwanda, for the 20th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually-Transmitted Infections in Africa.

Please feel at home. We are honoured to have you here, and over the coming week, we will assess the progress made in Africa toward eliminating HIV and AIDS and related diseases. We are here to share experience and knowledge, but also deepen our collective solidarity to fight this devastating epidemic together.

Allow me to recall a few key factors for success.

First, open dialogue saves lives. When it comes to sexually-transmitted infections, stigma and silence are real killers, just as much as the underlying viruses.

Shame discourages people living with HIV from learning and accepting their status and accessing the healthcare needed to live a full life.

ICASA exists in order to break down the taboos that impede prevention and early treatment. You are the ones to speak loudly and clearly. We have come too far in this struggle to do otherwise.

Second, AIDS is an epidemic without borders. Much of the success in the campaign to halt the spread of the virus can be credited to global cooperation.

It is therefore vital to continue raising the level of support for initiatives such as the Global Fund, Gavi, and PEPFAR, which have made such significant contributions.

Governments in Africa, for their part, must prioritise domestic financing for healthcare. Doing so creates a sustainable, long-term foundation for these valuable partnerships.

On this note, I would like to express our appreciation to the partners who have contributed to Rwanda’s HIV control efforts over the years. We look forward to continue working with you to reach the goals we have set.

Third and finally, strong national health systems are the right strategy for managing current and future health threats. Effective health systems have three key components that require sustained investment.

One, infrastructure and technology. We need modern facilities within a reasonable distance of where people live.

Two, people. That means highly-skilled medical professionals as well as managers and administrators.

Three, trust. Trust enables citizens to believe and act on health guidelines from public institutions and change their behaviour accordingly.

This is why Community Health Workers have been instrumental in improving health outcomes in several countries including Rwanda.

Let me close with a final thought. Good politics and governance have everything to do with health. There is no substitute for building an inclusive, caring society. Citizens, both young and old, must see themselves as stakeholders with a future to look forward to.

Health is about making good choices, right now, for benefits that may only be felt years later. In other words, a healthy mindset is a long-term one. Ultimately, this is what will enable us to win this fight against HIV and AIDS, and build the resilience required to handle other challenges down the line.

Once again, I thank you and wish you a productive meeting. I also invite you to stay here in our country for as long as you wish — seriously — and enjoy everything we may have to offer and also share with you.

Thank you for your kind attention.