Remarks at President Obama's World AIDS Day Event
Secretary of State
The President’s commitment and his follow-through and his fundamental belief in the possibility of an AIDS-free generation and the hard work of so many of you have all combined to put that extraordinary goal within our grasp, amazing as that may seem.
I want to thank my colleague, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her tremendous leadership at HHS and Raj Shah, who is our distinguished leader of AID, who’s on the front lines helping to make sure that this actually gets implemented. And all of you who have been so critical to being able to bring us to where we are, I might remark that the HIV is – really, the work within HHS on HIV has really set the gold standard for the world, and we can be very, very proud of it. I’m also glad that Deborah Von Zinkernagel and Julia Martin and John Monahan from the State Department are all here. They are leading our efforts to implement the President’s blueprint and writing a brand new chapter in the President’s fight against AIDS.
I also want to say a special thank you to Bill Gates. Bill and I are – we share a deep commitment to trying to improve the lives of others. He’s giving away billions of dollars and I’m giving shorter speeches than I used to. (Laughter.) It’s about the match.
There are so many really remarkable AIDS warriors assembled here – scientists and public servants, researchers and advocates, Republicans and Democrats – all of whom have put ideology and partisanship, party, even nation state aside in the interest to try to embrace a much larger and more important vision, a more global vision, a universal vision. And by reaching across disciplines and across different faiths, and by reaching across the aisle and across the world simultaneously, everybody here has really helped to tap into what we like to think are the deepest values of our country but happily are shared by so many other countries and so many other people around the world.
One thing that has stood out on this issue from my point of view – I sat where Barbara Lee – she’s in the House, I was in the Senate, but we were in the same endeavor – and I’ll tell you, whether it was Barbara Lee and Senator Bill Frist, or whether it was Jesse Helms and myself – improbable – Jesse Helms, who came to that table and helped us pass this unanimously in the United States Senate – no matter how deep the political differences were, we all managed to be able to find a way for this issue to unite us. And in our collective refusal to allow AIDS to ravage yet another generation, we showed a deeper determination to meet our global responsibilities.
That’s really what’s happening here. This is not a small deal. I want to compliment Congress, Barbara, for continuing the tradition and passing the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act, which the President just talked about looking forward to signing.
When you really consider how we bridge those differences and the distance that we have traveled in this, this journey is even that much more remarkable. I can really remember back in 1991 when Bill Frist and I joined together as the chairs of the CSIS Task Force to study HIV/AIDS and very little was known about it. I remember the fear back then, literally, and in politics, it was a tricky thing to talk about publicly. As recently as ten years ago, AIDS was a death sentence for many, and experts warned that in parts of the world, we had reached a point literally of no return.
But what I remember most and what I’ve been privileged to be part of every step of the way is how everybody came together to push back against that pessimism. When the leaders in this room and in entire communities, entire countries which were ravaged by AIDS – when you looked out and saw this challenge, you didn’t see someone else’s crisis. You saw our shared humanity and our shared responsibility.
Now, with this World AIDS Day yesterday and this convening here today and with the conference that will take place tonight and tomorrow, we are really renewing that commitment. And it’s appropriate, obviously, even as we do so to think about all those who have been lost in this battle who were too late – we were too late in order to save them. And we remember a lot of friends – I can remember many members, supporters of mine and others in political life, in the gay community, who were going to funeral after funeral after funeral. And there was a massive pessimism within the community and a sense that this was overwhelming and that there was no way we could win this.
Well, it is clear that we are now turning a very important corner, but it is not won. There is major challenge ahead and it will require major continued commitment in order to complete the task and live up to the memory that we want to honor of all those for whom it was too late.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, new HIV infections are down by nearly 40 percent since 2001. AIDS-related mortality has declined by nearly one-third since its peak in 2005. And globally, new infections among children have been cut in half in a decade. And access to life-saving HIV treatment has increased close to forty-fold.
I’m pleased to note that we have achieved much of this because President Obama was determined to set a higher standard, and he sort of glossed over it in his own comments, but that was a very significant commitment. On World AIDS Day two years ago, the President challenged us to reach six million more people with live-saving treatment, to provide 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women with treatment for their own health and to prevent onward transmission to their children, and to reach 4.7 million men with voluntary medical male circumcision services for HIV prevention.
These targets have pushed us to go further, to be more innovative, to forge new partnerships, including with many of you here in this room. And as a result, you all are now reaching more people and more lives are being saved than ever before.
Now to meet the challenge of PEPFAR’s second decade – and Raj will emphasize this, I know – we have to transform America’s role, and we need no clearer example of the transformation that we need to realize than South Africa, Rwanda, and Namibia, which – all you have to do is look at the work that they’re doing with the Country Health Partnerships. These countries provide a model for how PEPFAR is transitioning from providing direct aid to delivering support for locally run and self-sustaining efforts. This is a vital transformation.
And greater commitments from our partners in the Global Fund should give greater confidence to this initiative. I am extremely encouraged by the increased investments from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Canada, as well as from Germany and France. And all of them are extending their high levels of commitment, and as the President just said to you, don’t leave our money on the table. If everybody steps up, we will do even more and meet this challenge.
It’s a great honor to host the Global Fund’s Fourth Replacement Conference in Washington this week. And as I speak to the Conference this evening, it’s safe to say we really are chartering a new writing, a new chapter in this work. When it comes to the Global Fund, there are also lessons to learn beyond our financial leadership. To wit, the way that we have leveraged our commitments inspires greater contributions from other nations, and we have shown, I think, therein, strategic leadership. I might add I think it’s fair to say that that engagement, which the President touched on, is frankly inspiring a truly global effort, and we’re proud that it is doing so.
As we continue to confront the global challenge of AIDS, we are literally in a position to build on a great American legacy. We are, as you all know, proudly the nation that defeated the Axis powers and then turned around and invested billions of dollars in their recovery, and that has made all the difference to a powerhouse like Germany and an ally like Japan and to Europe itself. We are the nation that faced down the Soviet Union with the force of our ideals and our alliances, and without resorting to the force of arms. Now, no exaggeration, in our own time, in this generation, in our fight against AIDS – yes, in a different way, but no less important – we are able to engage in an initiative that can help define our nation and the global spirit.
If we continue to make the right choices, our work will provide for even greater possibilities. Now I want you just to think about this: Today, 11 of our 15 biggest trading partners, as recently as 10, 15, 20 years ago, were receiving aid from the United States of America. And the truth is that one day that permits us to hope that our children and our grandchildren can say the same thing about PEPFAR partners today.
When seven of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world are in Sub-Sahara Africa, the opportunities are obviously enormous. And rather than view our relationship with Africa as defined by the obstacles that we face, we literally are now able to define it by the opportunities that we can seize together.
So in every generation, Americans are called on to do exceptional things against seemingly insurmountable odds. We know that working to achieve an AIDS-free generation will continue to pose an incredible test. But with our continued commitment, I am certain that we can all look forward not only to passing that test, but to working with each other and providing a new definition of the character of our nation and the character of our global spirit.
Thank you. (Applause.)