07.24.12

Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy At The UNAIDS And Elton John Foundation Breakfast On Capitol Hill

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you, Gwen, for that introduction.  It is a pleasure to be here and especially with such a wide ranging audience from the political, business, scientific and faith-based communities. 

In particular, I want to welcome South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Ambassador Eric Goosby, and of course, my old friend Sir Elton John. 

I remember when Sir Elton was here about a decade ago, urging, cajoling, or whatever it took, to encourage the U.S. to lead the world by making lifesaving AIDS drugs available to people in poor countries who could not afford them.  And what a difference you and the Elton John Foundation have made.

This week is the first International AIDS Conference in more than 20 years hosted by the United States.  For decades the U.S. had a shameful policy of preventing people living with HIV from entering this country without a waiver. 

That policy was unjust and unsupported by sound public health data or principles.  It was an embarrassment and beneath this great nation.  It reflected one of the most insidious obstacles in the fight against HIV/AIDS – discrimination based on fear, ignorance, and perhaps worst of all, intolerance. 

The Congress was wise to finally return the authority for determining whether to exclude people from entering this country for public health reasons to the Centers for Disease Control, and the Obama Administration was wise to strike HIV from the list of exclusions.  

What better way to celebrate that change than by hosting the Conference this year in Washington.   

This is a critical moment in the global fight against AIDS.  A decade ago, President George W. Bush and the Congress began PEPFAR, which was a landmark. 

Today we can realistically talk about the beginning of the end of AIDS and, by 2015, a generation in which virtually no children are born with the virus.  When they become teenagers and adults, they will be at far lower risk of infection than they would be today.  

It would be hard to overstate the dedication and determination – including by many in this room – that have brought us to this point.  Because of what you have done to fight complacency and keep attention on the continuing toll of this disease, the United States has remained a leader. 

In the Congress, there are many things we get to vote on, but few with the far reaching, lifesaving impact of funding for PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and UNAIDS. 

We are making great progress toward the goal of ending mother to child transmission by 2015.  The world has also set a goal of 15 million people receiving treatment by 2015, which would nearly double the current number. 

President Obama announced that the United States will support 6 million people on treatment by the end of 2013, and Dr. Goosby has told us that PEPFAR, working with partner countries, is on track to meet this goal.

HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs are reaching more people and getting better results than ever before -- but this week, while we take note of the achievements, we need to focus on what still needs to be done.    

If we succeed in getting treatment to 15 million people in 2015, that is less than half the number living with HIV/AIDS today.  You know the statistics:

This year, another 2.5 million people will be infected. 

Today alone, about 7,000 people will die from AIDS. 

And in this country, Washington, DC, has the highest incidence of AIDS infections, surpassing some African countries.  That is a disgrace. 

At a time when national budgets are shrinking, we have to maximize the impact of every dollar by supporting whatever methods are most effective, using economies of scale, and minimizing transport costs. 

The United States continues to provide nearly 50 percent of the resources worldwide – including one-third of the funding for the Global Fund.  I hope we can continue to do so, but we can’t take anything for granted. 

The reforms at the Global Fund in the past six months have been transformative.  Gabriel Jaramillo’s bold initiatives to streamline the Fund’s bureaucracy and focus on grant management will help us build support in Congress, strengthen oversight, and improve coordination among donors, countries, and the Fund. 

It is vitally important that other donor governments and partner countries step up their support.  South Africa, which has had such a large number of infections, should be credited for shouldering an increasing amount of the burden.

We will also hear this morning about contributions by the United Nations and coordinated by UNAIDS, by business and faith communities, and by foundations like the Elton John AIDS Foundation, working here and around the world, for decades.   

Our 30-year campaign against AIDS has taken us from horror, to hope, to real help.  We have built alliances across political parties, cultures, and countries.     

This disease has wrought immense suffering around the globe, but it also triggered remarkable scientific discoveries and public health advances.

The march against this disease shows we CAN make a difference, and we have proved it.  It shows that commitment counts, and we must RENEW it.

Together, we have saved millions of lives and strengthened families and communities.  Together, we can usher in an AIDS free generation, and, some day, end AIDS altogether.

And what an extraordinary thing that would be.

Thank you.

 

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