Acceptance Speech by Dr. Alex G. Coutinho

 Your Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the Prime Minister of Japan, Heads of State and all distinguished guests here present. I am humbled to stand before this distinguished gathering to accept this tremendous honour that the leadership and people of Japan have chosen to bestow on me in memory and recognition of Dr Hideyo Noguchi and his distinguished work. When I graduated from Makerere Medical school in June 1983 exactly 30 years ago I did not realize that the HIV epidemic that was already in Uganda would become a Global epidemic and that combating this HIV epidemic would define my life’s work and would eventually lead up to this award and my presence here today.

 Since I was a child I have always desired to be a doctor and what I have enjoyed most in the past 30 years of my medical career is to provide comfort and healing to thousands of people in Africa by being thier physician. In the past 15 years I and my colleagues have also been able to translate emerging HIV science into large scale health programs reaching millions of people in Uganda, Swaziland and beyond. My colleague Dr Peter Piot and others have been at the forefront of discovering scientific breakthroughs in HIV science and together we have worked to translate science into policy and large scale global practice. In turn as we have scaled up services to reach millions we have discovered new challenges as well as new scientific knowledge that contributes to global science and providing additional solutions to the diseases that plaque us. 

  Clearly the achievements for which I am being honored could not have happened without the support, engagement and involvement of many many players and institutions – too many to mention here – but I will highlight a few.

 I wish to credit the Uganda government and the Uganda people led by our President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for ushering in an uninterrupted era of peace and increasing prosperity. No nation that is at war externally or within itself can hope to engage in meaningful health reforms or programs. By having 27 years of peace in most parts of Uganda, organizations like TASO and IDI that I led have been able to work hand in hand with the GOU and international  partners including Japan to deliver medical services for people in Uganda and beyond.

 I wish to recognize my teachers and my mentors for teaching me both life and medicine but beyond that instilling a sense of passion of caring for the downtrodden and a deep patriotism to Africa. It is what has kept me in Africa and it is what challenges me each day to do better for our people.

 I wish to thank my professional colleagues through my career particularly in TASO, IPM, IAVI, The Global Fund, PEPFAR and at the Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University. My achievements are your achievements and we share in this recognition.

 I thank my family – my mother the nurse / midwife who shaped me on the path towards medicine and my wife Sheila who has been by my side for 31 years as we have raised our children- Neil, Jeremy and Karen. You all are my inspiration.

 I thank the Japanese people for your vision to honor your illustrious son Dr Hideyo Noguchi - for in setting out this award Japan has shown its recognition of the importance of health in the development agenda of Africa. Japan has been a long time friend of Africa and has steadily invested large sums of money to the health of our people. I call on the African leaders here present to continue investing in health and education in particular - the populace that we serve and who elect us, would chose health and education as their two highest priorities after peace, security and basic needs. I also call on the nations gathered here to recognize your own homegrown heroes. I know that in Uganda we have many hundreds of people like me in many diverse fields that need recognition to spur them on to greater heights and to retain them in Africa.

 I wish to thank HIV+ people around the world. Your courage in facing this deadly stigmatizing disease over the years is what has given us courage to stand by your side and collectively seek solutions and aspire for a world free from AIDS.

 Finally I dedicate today that this award is not mine only but that it belongs to the people of Africa. I commit that it will be used to create a new cadre of health workers that have both vision and leadership and who will put caring compassion and patriotism at the core of their health skills . I commit that these doctors, nurses, midwives, lab techs will in the years to come continue the spirit of Dr Hideyo Noguchi and help to solve the health challenges of our mother Africa.

 For God and my Country.