This past May I traveled to Zambia and had the chance to see my taxpayer dollars hard at work – saving and improving lives.

I wanted to see, and learn, how “combination prevention” helps stop the spread of HIV. It’s actually pretty common sense stuff; when multiple interventions are used together, the likelihood of HIV transmission is greatly reduced.

One of my many honors in Zambia was launching a “New Start” counseling and testing center, funded by the U.S. government, with USAID Zambia Mission Director, Dr. Susan Brems, and representatives from the Zambian Ministry of Health.

Debra Messing, Actress and PSI Global Health Ambassador, cuts the ribbon at a US-funded New Start HIV counseling and testing center in Mongu, Zambia. Photo Credit: Zoeann Murphy

The New Start center is located in Mongu, a small, isolated town in Western Province. I was amazed to learn that this was the first center in the area that offered services like voluntary counseling and testing for HIV, male circumcision, STI diagnosis and reproductive health services — all under one roof.

There were nearly 200 people who came from all over the community to be at the launch event. It was a hot muggy day, but still, there were lots of singing and dancing and drama. It was truly a celebration.

Now, the New Start network has nine centers in seven provinces—and reaches more than 14,000 Zambians each month with much needed HIV services. This is incredible to me.

After I cut the ribbon at the New Start center, I had a chance to meet the counselors and nurses who will actually be providing HIV counseling and testing services to the community, and they absolutely beamed with pride. They were excited to walk me through each of the rooms in the clinic—only five in all. I could tell they really wanted me to see and understand what this clinic means to the people in their community.

Seeing their enthusiasm made me so proud to know that the Zambian Government and my government are working in partnership through USAID and PEPFAR, with local organizations like Society for Family Health (SFH), as well as private sector partners— so that residents of Western Province have access to the health services they need.

I now realize that if we are really going to see an AIDS-free generation, we have to work together.  It takes partnerships at all levels – from governments to grassroots to the private sector. Everyone has a role to play.