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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2003
President Urges Congress to Act Quickly on Global HIV/AIDS Initiative
The East Room
2:08 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much for the warm welcome. Welcome to the people's house, the White House. It's my honor to welcome members of the United States Senate and the United States Congress; members from the ambassadorial corps; and fellow Americans who deeply care about a neighbor in need.
HIV/AIDS is a tragedy for millions of men, women and children, and a threat to stability of entire countries and of regions of our world. Our nations have the ability and, therefore, the duty to confront this grave public health crisis.
We are here today to urge both Houses of the United States Congress to pass the emergency plan for AIDS relief, which will dramatically expand our fight against AIDS across this globe.
I appreciate so very much Secretary of State Colin Powell's commitment to this issue. The fight against AIDS is an integral of our nation's foreign policy. I appreciate so very much Secretary Tommy Thompson's dedication to this issue, as the chairman of the global fund. He knows this administration's passion about doing our duty. And I want to thank these members of my Cabinet for being here today.
I also want to thank the chairman and the ranking members of the committees responsible for getting this legislation moving. Senator Lugar and Senator Biden both committed to this legislation; both working closely with our administration to get a good bill out of the Senate. And Senator Hyde and Senator Lantos have been at work already, and I appreciate their leadership, as well. We're honored to have you here, and we're honored to have the other members of the Congress with us today who care deeply about this issue.
I also want to thank Tony Fauci. He works for the NIH. He is on the leading edge of finding the vaccines that will help those who suffer from AIDS. I love Tony's commitment to humans, to what's best for mankind. I'm glad you're here, Tony.
I also want to thank Joe O'Neill, as the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. He works closely in my administration. I appreciate his advice, I appreciate his counsel.
I want to thank Gaddi Vasquez, who's the Director of the Peace Corps, who is here. We just came from a roundtable discussion, and somebody came up with the idea, as this initiative goes forward and we get a good piece of legislation out of Congress, and when I sign it, hopefully before Memorial Day, one of the things we may want to do is to convert some of our Peace Corps to helping people in Africa who have got AIDS. So Gaddi, I want you to think carefully about that idea.
I appreciate the ambassadors who are here, from the African and Caribbean nations. It's good to see you all again. I think the last time we saw each other was in black tie. It's a lot better not being in black tie. (Laughter.)
I appreciate those who are members of the faith-based world who have answered the call, the universal call, to help a brother and sister in need. I want to thank you for being involved in the fight against AIDS. I want to thank those who have been involved in this struggle for a long period of time. I am confident that the progress that you have made to date will be progress that we can build upon and will build upon.
Confronting this tragedy is the responsibility of every nation. For the United States, it is a part of the special calling that began with our founding. We believe in the dignity of life, and this conviction determines our conduct around the world. We believe that everyone has a right to liberty, including the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. (Applause.) We believe that everyone has a right to life, including children in the cities and villages of Africa and the Caribbean. (Applause.)
Today, on the continent of Africa alone nearly 30 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, including 3 million people under the age of 15 years old. In Botswana, nearly 40 percent of the adult population -- 40 percent -- has HIV, and projected life expectancy has fallen more than 30 years due to AIDS. In seven sub-Sahara African countries, mortality for children under age five has increased by 20 to 40 percent because of AIDS.
There are only two possible responses to suffering on this scale. We can turn our eyes away in resignation and despair, or we can take decisive, historic action to turn the tide against this disease and give the hope of life to millions who need our help now. The United States of America chooses the path of action and the path of hope. (Applause.)
Since January 2001, America has increased total spending to fight AIDS overseas by nearly 100 percent. We've already pledged more than $1.6 billion to the global fund to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases. It is by far the most of any nation in the world today. And last year, I launched an initiative to help prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to children in Africa and the Caribbean.
These are vital efforts and they're important efforts. But we must do far more. So in January, I asked the House and the Senate to enact the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. With the approval of Congress, this plan will direct $15 billion to fight AIDS abroad over the next five years, beginning with $2 billion in 2004. We will create comprehensive systems that diagnose, to treat and to prevent AIDS in 14 African and Caribbean countries where the disease is heavily concentrated. We won't diminish our other efforts that are now ongoing. We will continue the funding that is in place, but we'll focus intensely on 14 ravaged countries to show the world what is possible.
This is a terrible disease, but it is not a hopeless disease. At this moment, nations around the world, governments and health officials, doctors and nurses, people living with the virus are proving that there is hope, and that lives can be saved. We know that AIDS can be prevented. In Uganda -- Madame Ambassador, thank you for being here -- President Museveni has begun a comprehensive program in 1986 with a prevention strategy emphasizing abstinence and marital fidelity, as well as condoms, to prevent HIV transmission.
The results are encouraging. The AIDS infection rate in Uganda has fallen dramatically since 1990. And in places throughout the country, the percentage of pregnant women with HIV has been cut in half. Congress should make the Ugandan approach the model for our prevention efforts under the emergency plan. (Applause.)
We also know that AIDS can be treated. Anti-retroviral drugs have become much more affordable in many nations, and they are extending many lives. In Africa, as more AIDS patients take these drugs, doctors are witnessing what they call the Lazarus effect, when one patient is rescued by medicine, as if back from the dead. Many others with AIDS seek testing and treatment, because it is the first sign of hope they have ever seen.
Many past international efforts to fight AIDS focused on a prevention at the expense of treatment. But people with this disease cannot be written off as expendable. Integrating care and treatment with prevention is the cornerstone of my emergency plan for AIDS relief, and we know it works.
In Haiti, for example, the GHESKIO clinic -- where are you, Don? There you are, thank you for coming -- The director of which is here with us today, is providing care to 5,000 people with HIV. His report was optimistic about what is possible. He should be speaking up here and not me about success. He says in spite of miserable conditions in Haiti, he is optimistic that with the right strategy and the right approach, we can save lives. And I appreciate you coming, sir. (Applause.)
In Uganda's capital, a clinical research center is providing anti-retroviral therapy to 6,000 patients with HIV. Health care workers from other centers in Uganda travel by truck and by motorcycle to rural villages and farms a few times each week, delivering critical medicine to patients who cannot reach the city for treatment.
These are successful strategies, and must be brought to a much larger scale. We've seen what works. I'm asking Congress to appropriate monies so we can expand what works to save lives.
In sub-Sahara Africa, just one percent of the more than 4 million people needing immediate drug treatment are receiving medicine. That's about 50,000 people. The emergency plan for AIDS relief is designed to put major resources behind proven methods of care and treatment and prevention, and multiply these goods -- good works many times over.
That's what we're going to do. The resources will be managed carefully, with flexibility by a new global AIDS coordinator. And this coordinator will help us utilize and further develop successful clinical networks. These networks link urban medical center staff by specialist physicians and nurses with rural clinics, where HIV tests can be preformed and medications distributed.
And because so much of the health care in sub-Sahara Africa is provided by facilities associated with churches and religious orders, we must ensure that the legislation provides the greatest opportunity for faith-based and community organizations to fully participate in helping a neighbor in need. (Applause.)
Our experts believe that the emergency plan for AIDS relief will, in this decade, prevent 7 million new HIV infections, treat at least 2 million people with life extending drugs, and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS -- and, as importantly -- for children orphaned by AIDS.
Confronting the threat of AIDS is important work, and it is urgent work. It is a moral imperative for our great nation. In the three months since I announced the emergency plan, an estimated 760,000 people have died from AIDS, 1.2 million people have been infected, more than 175,000 babies have been born with the virus. Time is not on our side.
So I ask Congress to move forward with speed and seriousness this crisis requires. But Africa, the Caribbean and the United States cannot exceed by ourselves. I urge all nations, and will continue to urge all nations, to join with us in this great effort.
Fighting AIDS on a global scale is a massive and complicated undertaking. Yet, this cause is rooted in the simplest of moral duties. When we see this kind of preventable suffering, when we see a plague leaving graves and orphans across a continent, we must act. When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not, America will not pass to the other side of the road. (Applause.)
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
END 2:23 P.M. EDT