Remarks at the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 10th Anniversary Celebration

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 18, 2013

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

Thank you very, very much everybody. What a pleasure to be here. This is a really great celebration. This is special. And if anybody here – I know you’re here because you are touched by it – but what a wonderful thing to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of this remarkable intervention that represents the best of the human spirit, and also I think in many ways, the best of American leadership. It’s something we can really be proud of, and we can be possibly not prouder at all of any effort by any individual than the remarkable effort, the amazing job of developing the PEPFAR programs and taking on one of the greatest health challenge crises of our time. I cannot thank enough the leadership of Ambassador Eric Goosby, who has been spectacular in this effort. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.

And I want to thank Tatu. Thank you so much for being here with us. I couldn’t be more pleased than to welcome you and your daughter, Faith, here to the State Department. I think you are an inspiration to everybody in this room and to everybody who knows your story, which everybody will learn more of. But you’re a living example of the impact and meaning of this program, and we thank you for coming here to share with us.

Also, when it comes to vision and leadership, I’d be remiss if I did not recognize Dr. Tony Fauci. Tony has been there since the very beginning, and he has taught us all that if we follow the science, we can truly achieve an AIDS-free generation. And I’m not sure there would be a PEPFAR today if it were not for the leadership of Tony, and we owe him all our thanks, so thank you very much. (Applause.)

And I know full well after 29 years on the Hill that without the right senators and congressmen and women behind this kind of effort, it doesn’t happen. And when this started up, it started up with a lot of courage by individuals who were willing to step up. It didn’t exactly have the unanimous consent not only of the people in the Congress initially, but in the country. So I want to thank Senators Mike Enzi and Ben Cardin for their leadership, and thanks for being here today; I know you’re going to hear from them. And I also want to thank my good friend and colleague Senator Johnny Isakson and the other members of Congress who are here. We salute you all for coming and sharing in this celebration, and that is what it is.

Everybody knows that as you look at Congress today, not every day produces the kind of exceptional bipartisan cooperation that created the celebration we’re here to enjoy today. This is one issue where I can happily say that partisanship has really almost always taken a backseat. And in fact, the success of this effort shows what can happen when you reach across the aisle and you do wind up working together.

I want to thank Richard Nchabi Kamwi for – he’s the Health Minister from Namibia – I want to thank him for being here with us today. Namibia has been hugely impacted by this disease, but through the Minister’s efforts, and our partnership with his country, we are seeing extraordinary progress.

And to everyone else here, I know that so many of you here are the stakeholders in this effort and you’ve worked hard on it, and I thank you for what you’ve done and I welcome you here at the State Department on this tremendous occasion.

I want to acknowledge one person who, sadly, is not here today, and that’s Michael Taylor Riggs. Michael was a former congressional staffer whose hard work and dedication helped to make PEPFAR a reality. And as many of you know, Michael passed away last month at the age of 42. And we miss him, and we thank him for his leadership. And while we celebrate today’s anniversary, I think all of us are thinking of Michael as well as the millions whose lives this terrible disease touched: the mothers and fathers who lost children, the children who were left orphaned, the friends and loved ones left behind, the communities that were devastated, from San Francisco to Soweto.

I met a number of these young people who were affected by this disease when Teresa, my wife and I, visited the Umgeni Primary School outside of Durban. And I’ll never forget the visit, walking around these mud huts with a grandmother who was coughing badly from HIV infection, and young kids whose – the only – the gap between them was generations wide. And we saw these orphans who were robbed of their parents, who were forced to take on the burden of adulthood at the age of 13, 14, 15, and caring for their younger siblings.

We were heartbroken at hearing what these children had been through, and you couldn’t help but feel this agony and this total disruption of the way life is supposed to be. But we were also inspired. We saw in their faces the amazing resilience of humanity, and it said something about all of us, and to all of us as well. Because when we all looked lost, when this disease appeared to be unstoppable, history will show that humanity and individual humans rose to the challenge. Action was taken. Innovations were discovered. Hope was kindled, and generations were saved.

The success of PEPFAR, as well as efforts by the entire global community, including the great work done by the Global Fund, represents in truth a victory for the human spirit. And with the Global Fund replenishment happening this year, now is the time for all donors to join with the United States to support and strengthen the fund. The fight against HIV and AIDS shows what we can accomplish when we make the effort together, join hands, overcome the ideology and the politics, and really dedicate our hearts to win.

None of this was easy, and frankly it’s really worth remembering for a moment how bleak things looked at a certain point in time. A decade ago, when the world finally began to reckon with the full magnitude of this crisis, many experts thought it was too late, and with nearly 30 million people infected with HIV/AIDS in 2002, an entire generation seemed lost. When I looked at the enormity of the challenge at that point in time, candidly it was hard not to be overwhelmed to some degree, and perhaps even a tiny bit pessimistic.

But I also felt that we had to do something, and so did many of my fellow senators, I am so happy to tell you, especially Bill Frist and ultimately Jessie Helms. I was proud to serve with Senator Frist as a founding co-chair of the bipartisan HIV/AIDS taskforce, a group that was instrumental in helping us to be able to prepare and lay the groundwork and pass the first AIDS legislation in the United States Congress – unanimously, I might add, in the Senate, thank to Jesse Helms’ and Bill Frist’s efforts – so that that was signed by President Bush in 2003. That translated ultimately into PEPFAR.

This landmark legislation created the world’s largest and most successful foreign assistance program, and today a disease that seemed unstoppable is in retreat. Globally, new HIV infections have declined nearly 20 percent over the past decade. In Sub-Saharan Africa, both the number of new infections and AIDS-related deaths are down by almost one-third over the last decade. Last year alone, PEPFAR supported HIV testing and counseling for nearly 50 million people, and while just 300,000 people in low and middle income countries were receiving anti-retroviral treatment 10 years ago, today PEPFAR is directly supporting more than 5 million people on treatment.

Because of these successes, I am honored to make a very special announcement today, an announcement that we could literally only have dreamed about 10 years ago. Thanks to the support of PEPFAR, we have saved the one millionth baby from becoming infected with HIV. That is a remarkable step. (Applause.)

And as you know, preventing mother-to-child transmission has been a central pillar of our fight against this disease, and just this month we reached the truly landmark moment on the HIV/AIDS timeline. Imagine what this means – one million babies, like Tatu’s daughter Faith, can grow up happy and healthy, go to school, realize their dreams, break out of this cycle, maybe even have sons and daughters of their own, free from the burden and the fear of HIV.

That is not the only good news. I’m also pleased to report that in 13 countries, we have now passed a programmatic tipping point. Today, more people are newly receiving treatment than are newly infected. We are at this point, thanks to the combined and coordinated efforts of all partners in the fight of global – against global AIDS. That is what has brought us to this moment.

But in order for more countries to pass this tipping point and keep going in the right direction, we still need to reach those who are at the greatest risk of HIV infection. That’s why last July, the United States announced the creation of a new $20 million fund to support key populations, people who are too often stigmatized, at risk, and neglected. And that means particularly men who have sex with men, it means people who inject drugs, and it means sex workers. And it’s my pleasure today to announce that the recipients of this funding, Cambodia, Ghana, Nepal, Senegal, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and two regional programs, are going to have the benefit of this going forward.

This has been a decade of remarkable progress, my friends. But obviously, our work is not done. Millions still become infected every year and millions are still dying. But we can now say with confidence something we could perhaps only have dreamed of before, as I said, and that is we can achieve an AIDS-free generation, and that is within our grasp now.

So to get there we’re going to have to stay at it. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have redoubled our efforts. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. now directly supports three times more people on antiretroviral drugs today than we did in 2008.

Where we once saw a situation spiraling out of control, today we see a virtuous cycle beginning to form, with more people receiving treatment and fewer people passing on the virus. Fewer infections means it is now easier to actually focus treatment efforts. And with fewer people sick and dying, we are seeing healthier, more productive populations. That’s the virtuous cycle. The economies of Sub-Saharan Africa are growing at a substantial rate, and a generation is now able to look to the future with hope.

As the progress continues, PEPFAR, over its next decade, will gradually evolve as our fight against this disease evolves, and that is going to happen both by necessity and by design. Achieving an AIDS-free generation is a shared responsibility and it is going to be a shared accomplishment. That is why PEPFAR is working to gradually and appropriately transfer responsibilities to host countries. This means that PEPFAR will shift from merely providing aid to co-investing in host countries’ capacity.

Ten years after this program began, rest assured that the commitment of President Obama, the State Department, myself, this country’s commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS is as undiminished as our work is unfinished. Our commitment has only been strengthened by the progress that we’ve made and the lives that we’ve saved and this story that we are able to tell today. This story compels us to continue.

What has been achieved here is a lesson for all of us. And I think it is, in fact, a lesson that people should believe in humanity. To never doubt what we can achieve is one of the lessons of today, to know that we can do the remarkable, that we can find solutions to what seems to be unsolvable, that we can overcome the insurmountable and we can leave politics and ideology at the wayside in order to choose life and possibilities for people everywhere.

Because of this faith, because of this program, because of your efforts, because a mother like Tatu could live to see her child grow up to change the world – that is why we will continue

Thank you. Thank you, Eric. Thank you, senators and congressmen and women. And thank you, all of you who have worked at this extraordinary effort. It’s a story worth telling. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/0755