To PEPFAR teams, supporters and partners,
It was an honor to be sworn in today to serve as Ambassador-at-Large, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State. I want to thank President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and the United States Congress for the support and confidence they have instilled in me and to the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
I took the oath of office on behalf of all of you, your commitment to the global HIV response, and your dedication to improve public health and save lives. PEPFAR is one of the most successful global health initiatives, ever. I assume leadership today of this unprecedented initiative with a long history of strong, unwavering bipartisan Congressional leadership and support and a proven track record of global life-saving work. Since 2003, when Congress and President George W. Bush created PEPFAR, the program has saved more than 21 million lives and prevented millions of HIV infections. PEPFAR has been strengthened over the last 19 years through continued American generosity and a conviction to finish the fight against AIDS. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, PEPFAR has proven remarkably resilient in protecting and advancing hard-fought gains against HIV as well as creating the backbone to fight COVID-19 and other global health threats. I know all this to be true, as I have lived and seen firsthand the positive impact it has had on people around the globe.
I come to this privileged role both humbled and inspired. I am lifted on the shoulders of those who came before me – all the former Ambassadors that have made this program more impactful and effective. I also am inspired by all the dedicated members of the PEPFAR family that have continued fearlessly through the years. I want to thank Dr. Angeli Achrekar for her incredible leadership of PEPFAR over the past two and a half years – no small feat during the COVID-19 pandemic – and each of you for your dedication and commitment to the program and the people it serves. I am grateful for the entire PEPFAR headquarters and country teams for their dedication and tireless efforts. It is evident that together, they have achieved remarkable results in the face of dual pandemics, difficult operating conditions, and personal sacrifices. I believe firmly that PEPFAR today is stronger because of their collective work.
Together with all of you, I look forward to working with governments and communities, while also acknowledging and appreciating the broader global heath context that will determine the success of our actions and the future of the PEPFAR program. I look forward to capitalizing on the capacity and experience of those in the countries where we work, coming to the table with a deep respect for their perspectives and needs, taking account of their insights, their local knowledge, and their reservoirs of expertise. For such systems to be sustainable and keep infectious disease in check, we must act collectively to support the capabilities of local leaders and regional institutions and work in respectful partnership and accountability with them.
As I work to build out my front office and leadership teams, I am grateful that Angeli Achrekar will remain as the Principal Deputy Coordinator to assist me and continue leading on policy, programmatic and operational matters.
My front office team will be further expanded to include the following additions:
Jirair Ratevosian will serve as Acting Chief of Staff. In this role, Jirair will assist me with strategic planning, hiring, policy development and other front office management issues. Jirair joined S/GAC as senior advisor in August 2021. He worked previously on the Biden-Harris Transition Team as policy advisor on national security, COVID-19 and global health. Prior to joining S/GAC, he led corporate social responsibility and partnership relations at Gilead Sciences, and served as legislative director to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, where he led budget, appropriations, and the reauthorization of PEPFAR in 2013. He has worked at amfAR, Physicians for Human Rights, and served on the board of the Global Fund. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Sandy Thurman will serve as Acting Senior Advisor on Community Engagement. In this role, Sandy will help navigate strategic and transparent engagement with community and stakeholders, including faith and civil society as we work to build out these respective teams, roles and portfolios further. Sandy has more than three decades of global health leadership and management experience in government, NGOs and academia. She served as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and as Director of Citizen Exchanges at the United States Information Agency before being appointed to the posts of AIDS Czar, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and Presidential Envoy on AIDS at the White House. She has also held senior advisory posts at CDC and the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta. Sandy began her work on HIV/AIDS as Executive Director of AID Atlanta, the oldest and largest community-based AIDS organization in the South. She recently served as the former Chair of the Ethics and Governance Committee of the Global Fund.
Veronica Davison joins S/GAC as Senior Communication Advisor for the front office. In this role, Veronica will plan and execute strategic communication strategies and lead on internal and external correspondence supporting the front office. Veronica joins us from DOD with a nearly two decades-long career as a communications professional. Veronica has extensive experience working in public health including her 10-year tenure at the CDC working domestically and abroad. In addition to serving as a Communication team lead in the Division of Global HIV/AIDS and special advisor to the Director of the Center for Global Health, she also had a long-term detail as the CDC Kenya deputy country director. The highlight of her career was an 18-month secondment to PEPFAR, where she liaised with key stakeholders to support the program’s mission, and served as the acting director for Public Affairs and Communication, overseeing the team responsible for media relations, social media, website content generation and management, conference planning, storytelling, and more.
Shanita Williams joins S/GAC as Special Assistant. In this role Shanita will coordinate strategic scheduling, special projects and materials supporting the front office. Shanita joins from CDC and has a long history of operational excellence. Shanita is a former CDC International Lab Branch Management and Program Analyst, where she provided high-level support to leadership. In her role, Shanita identified and resolved key operational and strategic issues by researching, planning, and recommending procedures to implement programmatic functions to meet program requirements. She also aided in the development of material for progress reports, proposals, presentations, and other events related to the Branch’s public health programmatic activities.
I am humbled and privileged to serve and am very much looking forward to engaging with all of you as we work together to mark PEPFAR’s 20th anniversary and build PEPFAR’s future.
Dr. John N. Nkengasong serves as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State.