United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote says it is stupid to stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS because when they take their ARVs, they become virally suppressed and unable to transmit the virus.

And President Edgar Lungu has urged citizens to get tested because ignoring their status will make them vulnerable to the virus.

Speaking during World AIDS Day commemorations at Villa Grounds in Livingstone, Saturday, Ambassador Foote stressed that it was time to remove stigma.

“I have met with many HIV-positive young people ages 12-24, almost all of whom were born with the virus. Not only are they exceptionally brave, they are the most dedicated advocates to HIV/AIDS elimination I’ve seen. Why do we stigmatize them, or anyone with the virus? Stigma against any HIV positive person is stupid at this point, because if they take their ARVs, they’ll become virally suppressed, and cannot transmit the virus. Remove the stigma!” Ambassador Foote said.

“Why? Here’s a reason: Of those on regular, sustained treatment, 89 percent have the HIV virus under control with the antiretroviral drugs, and this number should approach 100 percent, as we ensure every HIV-positive person takes their medicines correctly and religiously. Speaking of religion: religious leaders, please pray that suffering is eased, pray in thanksgiving that ARV treatment works, and ensure your congregations get tested, take, and stay on their medicines. I would never presume to speak for The Almighty, but I am certain that my merciful God wants us to prevent further transmission, save lives, and eliminate HIV/AIDS.”

He highlighted good habits which could help the world control HIV/AIDS.

“I mentioned how far you have already run. We are on the brink of controlling HIV/AIDS, but now it is critically urgent that we all fully commit to make the daily effort to ensure success. Here’s the important part, and it’s not complicated! We each must do a few things to win this battle: 1. Get tested. Know your status. Make sure everyone you love gets tested. Take your children to get tested. Make our young people get tested. We only know the HIV status of 50% of your children under age 14, and only 45% of young women aged 15-24. 2. If we test positive, we must all seek, and remain on, treatment for the rest of our lives, or until we find the cure. If you or a loved one tests positive, accept the challenge, love yourself and your family, and take your medicine. 3. If you are on treatment, always stay on treatment and do your viral-suppression testing. With patience and discipline, the virus in your body will become controlled, and you’ll live a wonderful life and never pass the virus on,” said Ambassador Foote.

“People with HIV/AIDS must live with it every single day of the year, and many continue to transmit it, and die unnecessarily. We mark World AIDS Day each December 1st, but we must work every day of the year to achieve an AIDS free Zambia, and indeed, world.”

And in a speech read on his behalf by Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya, President Lungu encouraged citizens to get tested.

“I call upon every Zambian to know their status and especially men who are among groups with low HIV testing and treatment coverage. In order for Zambia to seize the opportunity of this unprecedented moment, each person should make the decision to know their status and start treatment immediately. Ignoring your status will not change your status. It will only make you and your loved ones vulnerable to the virus,” said President Lungu.